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Conservatives Abandon Values to Suppport Charter School

02/06/2015 09:34 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

Conservatives are always in favor of using free-market principles except when they disagree with the outcome of a free-market-based decision. Case in point: a recent Detroit News editorial titled "Board wrong to demolish school."

The issue at hand is the decision by the Saginaw public schools board of education to demolish a school building the district inherited back in 2009 rather than sell it off. Given that the district is working to eliminate a considerable amount of debt, selling the building would seem like a good idea; however, the district has already agreed to sell another property that more than covers their outstanding debt.

The problem is that the organization that bid to purchase the building happens to be a charter school operation. This means that everyone who believes choice and charters are the answer to the manufactured "crisis in education," despite the data that show neither idea actually improves educational outcomes, has come out of the woodwork attempting to shame the district into accepting a deal that might be bad for business.

The hypocritical rhetoric starts with the phrase "competition can be uncomfortable." However true this statement may be, the author should also recognize that in a free market, corporations go out of their way to eliminate competition, not promote it. If Walmart were moving down the street, would they sell their old building to Target? Absolutely not. It would be a stupid business decision.

Of course, opponents also presume to know the details of this potential deal when they claim with absolute certainty that turning down this offer "was clearly a bad decision." Not mentioned in the piece is the fact that part of the property the charter school wanted to purchase is currently being rented by Delta College. The article also doesn't bother to consider the value of the property after the building is removed. If the district can sell the land to the college that is currently renting space, or to another buyer for more than the charter schools offer, then selling low to a potential competitor becomes an even worse decision, according to the free market.

Beyond this the article never bothers to question the motives or sincerity of the organization behind the press release that the media has picked up on. The Michigan Association of Public School Academies is a company that makes money off representing charter schools, much like a trade union. In their rebuke of the district's decision, they assert that the Saginaw school board is keeping "a perfectly good facility out of the hands of another public school -- a charter school." Given that the roof of the building collapsed last year and the facility has mold issues, it seems like the term "a perfectly good facility" is a bit of an embellishment meant to make the board seem petty and irresponsible.

Having said that, the district still has a few months before it has to do anything regarding the demolition. Perhaps they are just using a free-market negotiating tactic to increase the offer from the charter school operators. Walking away from an offer is a textbook method of getting the best deal.

There is also some question as to the value of this particular charter school operator. In the most recent top-to-bottom rankings, Saginaw schools had two facilities that ranked in the top 98th percentile, while the charter school was in the 20th percentile. Perhaps the district just feels this operator doesn't offer a better education to the students most likely to make the switch.

But even more confusing coming from conservatives is the belief that "the Legislature should find a way to force better use of public school buildings." Apparently those outside the district who did not participate in the negotiations, the school board meetings or the decision making process ride on such a high horse that they don't need actual data or information to determine that they know what's best for Saginaw residents. Yes, the people who believe in local control are now arguing that the state should force a locally elected board that decided to unanimously reject a charter school offer to accept a potentially bad business deal simply because they received a press release from an organization they support -- no questions asked.

It's certainly possible that the best deal for the Saginaw residents is to sell this building to a charter school company, but if the conservative media really wants to be mad about something, it should be mad at how easily conservatives abandon their core values to argue for a system that benefits corporations far more than students. That or they have to admit that supporting policies that help the rich get richer is really their only core value.