Home > Uncategorized > Canaries in a Coal Mine: Detroit and Michigan… Chicago and Illinois… Milwaukee and Wisconsin

Canaries in a Coal Mine: Detroit and Michigan… Chicago and Illinois… Milwaukee and Wisconsin

January 20, 2016

I get a feed every day from Google that provides links to stories about education and today’s feed included links to articles about Detroit Public Schools pondering ways to get the President to intervene in the financial crisis they are facing, two additional articles on the sick out in those schools because of the fiscal problems, an article about the Illinois legislature pondering a law turning over Chicago public schools to “an independent authority”, and articles about budget cuts Denver CO and Boston MA schools are facing. Earlier this month there were articles on the unravelling of funding for Milwaukee and WI schools— a topic I’ve blogged about frequently in the past. I’m not clicking on any of the articles because I’ve read enough about the downfall of urban schools and the combination of voter apathy and magical thinking to know what the articles will say and what happened…. and hopefully voters and taxpayers in CO and MA will look at MI, IL, and WI and decide to take a different path.

Michigan and Illinois are poster children for the worst case scenario in “reducing government spending and regulation”. The financial crisis in those states, like others across the country, began when the Federal government reduced funding to states in an effort to reduce the taxes they’d need to raise. When the States found themselves unable to reduce their tax burdens without reducing spending, they went after urban school districts and large municipalities who had employee unions that provided middle class wages, and benefits and pensions that formerly matched but now far exceeded those offered in the private sector. And if the municipalities could not make the cuts to reduce the wages, benefits, and pensions of these “greedy” public employees, the legislature gave them the tools needed to eliminate them altogether… and if THAT didn’t close the budget, each of these states came up with the gambit of turning the management of the municipality and/or school district and/or public utility over to an executive appointed by the governor or to private enterprise.

But as voters and residents of MI, IL and WI are learning, privatization cannot close the financial gap or, in the case of schools, the “performance” gap. Indeed, when these states cut taxes to attract businesses they ended up cutting services that ultimately repelled businesses from relocating and diminished the quality of life for all except those who reside in pristine suburban enclaves. But no matter, thus far the austerity minded legislators have convinced those who formerly worked for unions in Rust Belt industries that the “greedy public employee unions” and the “takers” seeking “free stuff” are the reason the budget gaps exist. But anyone with facility with a spread sheet and a rational mind could see that the projected trickle down revenues were improbable and the loss in taxes would only make the gaps wider.

So here’s my advice to voters everywhere, when a legislator claims that regulations are stifling the economy in your state, think of the “deregulated water” in Flint, MI and West Virginia… and when a legislator claims that choice will result in school improvement think of the “bold initiative” of vouchers that was implemented nearly two decades ago in Milwaukee and see how that’s worked out…. and when a legislator claims that money can’t be provided for schools but can be provided for stadiums, corporate “incentive packages”, and tax cuts for corporations see how that’s working in IL, MI, and WI.

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