by Félix Pérez
Contrary to what Michigan gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette now claims, the public record shows he fought every effort to return more than half a billion dollars taken illegally from the state’s teachers and school staff. As the state’s attorney general, Schuette thwarted educators in court for six years.
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Schuette changed his tune right before the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the state illegally deducted three percent from the paychecks of Michigan public school employees. The Michigan Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the appellate court ruling in December 2017 in the long-running “3 percent case,” brought by the Michigan Education Association and other labor groups.
Immediately following the court’s ruling, Schuette’s communications director tweeted that Schuette “strongly agrees” with the decision. MEA had a different take on Schuette’s involvement: “Today’s ruling ends a long string of unsuccessful appeals by Governor Rick Snyder and – until this final appeal – Attorney General Bill Schuette.”
The year before the Supreme Court ruling, MEA and the American Federation of Teachers Michigan delivered more than 33,000 petition signatures to Snyder and Schuette, demanding they stop wasting taxpayer money appealing court rulings that say school employees are owed $550 million.
Then-MEA President Steven Cook wrote:
We’ve been fighting this court battle for five years, and Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette should stand up for hardworking school employees, not work against them. Michigan school employees — including retirees who are still owed money they have earned — have families to feed, mortgages to pay and college debts to pay off. School employees deserve the return of their hard-earned money now, and we urge the governor and attorney general to stop the appeals and stop the delays.
Schuette’s election season flip flop will come with a price in November. His likely opponent, Gretchen Whitmer, voted against the law to allow the state to deduct three percent of school employees’ pay. Whitmer, the daughter and granddaughter of educators, described Snyder and Schuette’s multiple appeals of lower court rulings as part of a political philosophy: “Wear the little guy down, and then you can do anything you want.”
The law taking educators’ pay is not the only significant issue on which Whitmer disagrees with Schuette.
Schuette is a longtime ally of Betsy DeVos; between 2009 and 2014, the DeVos family and DeVos organizations contributed at least $136,000 to Schuette’s campaigns. Schuette, like DeVos, supports charter schools and school vouchers. “I share her philosophy of more choices more options, scholarships, what have you. . . ,” wrote Schuette in an editorial.
Whitmer, on the other hand, wants to rein in unaccountable charter schools, part of DeVos’s legacy of failure in her home state of Michigan. “For-profit companies have broken our education system. We cannot continue to let Michigan’s charter schools fail our kids. It’s time we put much-needed oversight in place to hold charter schools accountable…” She continued, “Right now, we’re not doing enough for the kids of this state, and let me be clear, it is not the fault of the heroes on the front line every single day,” she said. “It’s because our leaders in Lansing have undermined local control, they’ve undervalued education through budget cuts and they’ve underappreciated the educators and support staff in our schools.”