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What the Business Community is doing to influence the education system in Michigan: The West Michigan Policy Forum is leading the effort to adopt a Neoliberal Education Model

August 11, 2019

If you are unaware at this point that the West Michigan Policy Forum wants to push their own agenda for education in Michigan, then maybe it is time to pay attention.

The West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF), which was founded in 2008, has been vocal about education policy for years. Several years ago, they pushed Michigan legislators to shift public sector teacher pensions from a guaranteed fixed pension to a pension that is at the whim of the speculative market. 

On the West Michigan Policy Forum, they list their priorities and education is included on the list. Of course, they don’t generally name it as education, instead they refer to education as Talent. This is primarily because the WMPF is made up of members of the business community who are interested in education to the degree that it impacts the kind of employees they might have. Here is the list of education, or Talent priorities they have:

In addition to seeing education as Talent, the WMPF also is committed to pushing a neoliberal education model, which is essentially the model that Betsy DeVos has been promoting the past three decades. A neoliberal education model is one that seeks to radically alter the existing public education system and to utilize more public dollars to fund private and charter school options, which are less regulated.

Last September, the WMPF hosted former Florida Governor Jeb Bush at their conference, which had a heavy emphasis on education policy. We reported on what Bush presented, which was essentially the neoliberal education model. 

Most recently, the WMPF posted a short interview conducted by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce with Founder of North 42 Partners and member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, Michael Jandernoa.

The interview only lasts for 2 minutes and 16 seconds, but some of what Jandernoa has to say should concern those committed to education justice. One of the questions posed to Jandernoa was to comment on the current status of Michigan’s education system. Jandernoa says that it is one of the worst in the country, which is true. However, what he fails to mention is that the decline of the state’s education system was due to significant reduction in state funding, attacks against teacher unions and a push to adopt and expand charter schools.

Another question posed to Jandernoa has to do with why businesses should care about education. Jandernoa provides the talent response, encouraging listeners to get involved in the Chamber’s education advocacy committee.

Lastly, Jandernoa states that the business community is prepared to work with teachers and principals to help improve the education system. The fact is, the business community has been deeply influential in the Grand Rapids Public School system, working with the GRPS leadership to create career-centered educational opportunities and curriculum.

For several years now businesses like Rockford Construction, Amway, Triangle Associated Inc., Huntington Bank and the law firm of Warner Norcross & Judd have been working with the GRPS to develop specialty programs like the Academy of Business, Leadership & Entrepreneurship. Many of these same businesses also are part of the advisory council of the Academy for Business Leadership & Entrepreneurship, where they provide input and can directly influence school curriculum.

Last August, MLive reported that the GRPS was expanding these talent/career focused schools, or what they are calling academies. The first that will be rolled out this fall is the Academy of Culinary Arts and Hospitality and Tourism. Other academies that will follow are:

  • Academy of Advance Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management
  • Academy of Public Safety, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity
  • Academy Physical Therapy and Sports Management
  • Academy of Media Production
  • Academy of Cosmetology

The Grand Rapids Public Schools will only continue to be radically transformed under the influence of the business community, unless students, parents and community members take a more active role in the future of education in Grand Rapids.

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