George W. Bush and school privatization advocate Dick DeVos teamed up to raise over $400,000 for the West Michigan Aviation Academy this week. West Michigan Aviation Academy (WMAA) is a public charter high school that already receives more money per pupil from the state than 511 of Michigan’s 826 school districts. WMAA’s enrollment is expected to be around 400 students next year. If you figure that the district will now
have an extra $1,000 per pupil, WMAA will have more money to spend per student than most schools districts in the state.
Even though Dick DeVos’ school voucher initiative was turned down by voters in the fall of 2000, he has used his money and political prowess to inch Michigan towards a de facto voucher system. WMAA is a perfect example of the progress he has made. The school, which was founded by DeVos himself, will utilize public money, plus money from wealthy donors, to give students at WMAA more resources than kids at traditional public schools. Charters also have more freedom to operate because Republican legislators are not willing to hold charters to the same standards as public schools. The only line in the sand left to erase between public charters and a full fledge voucher system is the public school charter acceptance policy. Michigan charter school law requires an open enrollment policy and a lottery if there are more applicants than available slots. However, the law already gives too much leeway in enrollment because it gives “enrollment priority to siblings of existing students and to children of employees and board members.” These types of enrollment policies are easily manipulated and have been shown to be more favorable to well connected applicants. George Bush himself, likely used a similar system to get accepted into Yale.
We are on a slippery path with our public charter school system. It is a path being cleared by the financial and political elite. If the trend continues, we can expect to see the kind of disturbing income inequality in public schools that we see throughout the rest of society. Some students will be sitting in dilapidated school buildings behind old rusty desks. Others will be sitting in new schools behind expensive flight simulators. I guess we are pretty much already there.