With Education Summit, some hints and questions about Snyder's education priorities

Apr 22, 2013

Business leaders and others share their thoughts on the future of Michigan’s education system Monday.

The Governor’s Education Summit comes just on the heels of revelations about a secret education reform work group in Lansing—and questions about how much the Governor’s vision for public education jibes with theirs.

Some members of the group have close ties to Governor Snyder, including top aides. But Snyder says he didn’t ask for the group's ideas, and hasn’t reviewed them yet.

The ideas of the so-called “skunk works group” center around creating “value schools” that squeeze more “value” out of education dollars by emphasizing long-distance cyber-learning, among other things.

Critics suggest this amounts to a thinly-veiled voucher program, and creates another avenue for for-profit education groups to take a share of public dollars.

In the meantime, Governor Snyder stressed the importance of “neighborhood schools” to a Detroit audience on Friday.

“If you want a solid neighborhood—if you want a neighborhood to survive, flourish, and grow—we’ve got to stop doing what we’re doing and say ‘Let’s close schools, let’s scale back,’ Snyder said. “We need to put more in those school buildings. We need them to be hubs of the neighborhood.”

Snyder says we should aim to expand the services offered in schools, and make school buildings accessible 24/7. He talked about a push to open up more health clinics there, and touted his administration’s Pathways to Potential program, which puts more social workers and other resources in some urban schools.

But Snyder thinks there should be school-based opportunities for the private sector, too.

“I just want to throw this out as a pilot idea—how do we even look at business opportunities to say, ‘Can there be a coffee shop there? Can the dry cleaner be there?’” Snyder asked.

“Shouldn’t we be trying to pump more and more into the neighborhoods to make them more and more vibrant?”

As for the “skunk works group,” Snyder called the story “probably overblown in a lot of contexts.” He denied any direct involvement with the group, but said he doesn’t discourage their efforts.

“That’s how you come up with new ideas,” Snyder said. “Most of them don’t go anywhere, but you don’t want to discourage people from trying and being creative.”