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Michigan: The Ultimate Destination in a Deregulated and Privatized World

June 17, 2015

Last week I read an appalling account of the impact of privatization on the state of Michigan and felt a chill go down my spine having just read lengthy stories and blogged about the direction Wisconsin and North Carolina are heading. ” Magical Mystery Tour of American Austerity Politics” by TomDispatch blogger Laura Gottesdiener, described the impact of deregulated privatization on the lives of Michiganders… and the impact is particularly devastating on black families and children and those children and families struggling economically. In 2011, facing a number of cities and communities whose funding was in disarray, Michigan governor Rick Snyder prevailed on the legislature to pass a law allowing him to appoint “emergency managers” in those communities. The emergency managers would have broad authority to close down schools and community centers and override local ordinances that regulated businesses. At the same time, Snyder and the Republican controlled legislature passed several laws that promoted privatization and deregulation. The results were predictably bad and Gottesdiener does an excellent job of recounting them through five profiles of communities in Michigan. Gottesdiener opens with a description of the “pee-colored” water in Flint, MI and proceeds to describe the cancer riddled community of vacant homes near a refinery that process tar sands petroleum in “48217”– the zip code of a community with no name and lots of pollution; the “Great White North” where residents supported the overturning of the anti-democratic law giving the Governor broad authority to manage “failing” cities and towns despite their negative attitudes about the elected officials’ ability to govern those communities; the West Side of Detroit where armed law enforcement officials shot and killed a black man who allegedly wielded a hammer when they raided his home to deliver an arrest warrant. Gottesdiener concludes her “Magical Mystery Tour in Muskegeon Heights in Western Michigan where a for profit charter school hired by the emergency manager broke their contract because they couldn’t make a profit. The charter school worked collaboratively with the emergency manager who had the ability to fire all of the teachers and use the existing facilities. Gottesdiener described the opening day in 2012 under the new charter school’s leadership:

Schedules were in disarray. Student computers were broken. There were supply shortages of just about everything, even rolls of toilet paper. The district’s already barebones special education program had been further gutted. The “new,” non-unionized teaching staff—about10% of whom initially did not have valid teaching certificates—were overwhelmingly young, inexperienced, and white. (Approximately 75% of the town’s residents are African American.)

What happened over the course of the next two years was appalling. Mosaica, the charter company broke it’s contract in 2014 because it couldn’t make a profit. The response from the emergency manager?

The emergency manager said he understood the company’s financial assessment, comparing the school system to “a broke-down car.” That spring, Governor Snyder visited and called the district “a work in progress.”

No one voted for the emergency manager. No school board was involved in the decision to bring in a for-profit charter. Unions were incapable of pushing back because of legislation passed by the State. And now the emergency management system cannot be overturned by referendum as it was in 2011. This is what austerity looks like: no democracy but lots of profit.

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