Six months ago Naif (Nick) Khouri was the Senior Vice President, and a registered lobbyist, for DTE Energy. That’s good work if you can get it. Khouri was able to cash in over $700,000 in DTE stocks in the past 18 months, and he still holds over a million dollars worth of their shares by my math. It appears that he decided to trade making big money for holding political power. This past April Khouri was appointed to the position of State Treasurer by Governor Snyder, without requested and constitutionally required approval of the Michigan Senate. Thanks to a new law, Khouri is now one of the most powerful people in K-12 education.
Typically, the State Superintendent is second most powerful person in K-12 education after the Governor. However, a series of new laws has stolen power from the Superintendent, and the State Board of Education, and handed it over to other non-elected officials. In March, Snyder used an executive order, rather than the legislative process, to move control of the State School Reform District, and its 212 schools, from the Department of Education to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget. That office is lead by David Behen, a man who has degrees in public administration, not public education. In June, the Governor singed a series of “early warning” bills that puts 171 schools under the control of the Treasury, lead by Khouri, for having reserve funds, known as fund balance or fund equity, of 5% or less. It also expanded the Tresurer’s power to include being able to recommend the district receive an Emergency Manager.
Khouri, who holds degrees in economics, isn’t new to the education reform game. Khouri was one of twelve people who served on Governor John Engler’s Education Task Force on Education Reform in 1993 when he was chief deputy treasurer. The task force took all of six weeks to come up with their reforms. Out of that task force, two main concepts were pushed out according to the book Handbook of Educational Policy by Gregory Cizek. The first was charter schools. Charter schools were to be “a driving force to improve educational quality” which we now know has not come to bear. The task force also made many of the recommendations that would later be passed as Proposal A. Proposal A shifted the tax burden of schools from primarily property taxes to primarily a six percent, instead of four percent, sales tax. While mostly successful, one key problem with the law is that some students, mostly in down state affluent areas, still get as much as $2,000 more a year in funding than other students throughout the state.
With all the arguing that Michigan schools are broken, which I don’t agree with, and as more and more schools are without question financially broke, we have to wonder why Republicans still think they have the answer to “school reform.” Governor Engler’s reforms haven’t beared much fruit. While one could argue that somehow the Granholm administration is at fault, Republicans have held the Senate since Engler was in office. No significant education policy, or any policy for that matter, has occurred without their stamp of approval. Moving educational decisions out of the hands of people who study education and putting it in the hands of public administrators and lobbyists isn’t likely to help. But we know this about a power grab and not about what’s best for children.