State Board of Education members visit U.P., speak with school officials

MARQUETTE – Four of the eight members of the state Board of Education traveled to Marquette recently, hoping to learn about the state of public education from Upper Peninsula educators, as well as to offer advice on how to change it.

Board President John Austin, Vice President Casandra Ulbrich, member Kathleen Straus and member Michelle Fecteau were all present Monday.

Representatives from intermediate school districts across the U.P. – including local schools in the Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District – teleconferenced in with educators from Marquette and Alger counties who met with the board members inside the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency offices in Marquette. The biggest message offered by all four state board members – if you don’t like what you see in public education, contact your legislators.

Austin said many education bills did not get passed during the Legislature’s lame duck session – in which it passed more than 200 bills – because people told their legislators the bills would be detrimental to public education.

“The fact that those pieces of legislation did not get moved in lame duck – a lot of things did get passed in lame duck – to me is evidence that on education … parents, citizens and educators from the community can have incredible impact because enough people rose up during the lame duck legislature and said ‘We think these bills that you’re trying to rush through without public discussion, new unlimited for-profit school creations, could really damage public schools, could destroy potentially public schools,” Austin said. “And no legislator, Republican or Democrat actually wants to take a vote that says ‘I’m destroying public schools.’ People care about education.”

Ulbrich said people in the education community need to band together if they want to see any changes.

“We’ve seen, since lame duck, now everyone’s kind of retreating back into their own corners,” Ulbrich said. “You can’t do that. We have to keep pushing back.”

Strauss, who has been on the board for 20 years, said she is “frightened” by the number of changes made to the state’s public education system in just the last two years, including the explosion of online learning.

Many of the members pointed to the Michigan Legislature, saying it often acted too quickly and without enough data when it chose to pass new education laws, such as the controversial legislation that created the Education Achievement Authority.

The EAA will eventually operate the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in Michigan not achieving satisfactory results on a redesign plan or that are under an emergency manager. It will first apply to underperforming schools in Detroit in the 2012-13 school year and then be expanded to cover the entire state.

Austin also spoke out against the Oxford Foundation, which advises Snyder on public education matters.