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Michigan public schools increase reliance on outsourced services

A yellow school bus driving down the road

A free market think-tank says the use of private contractors in public schools has grown over the last decade and a half.

Seventy percent of public school districts in Michigan forgo the search for janitors, bus drivers and cafeteria staff. Instead, those schools rely on private contractors for at least one of those services. In 2001 only about 30% of school districts outsourced services.

James Hohman is with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which conducted the study. He said no school can provide public education by itself.

“Things that school districts used to take on and do themselves, we are looking toward the private sector,” he said. “And that’s been able to stretch school dollars further.”

Hohman says even though it’s often cheaper for schools to use private contractors, school districts continue to opt out, “Because it requires effort and it requires districts to continue to monitor their contracts to make sure that their vendors are doing the things that they promised the district.”

But critics say you get what you pay for.

Steven Cook is with Michigan Education Association. He said the main reason schools outsource is because of funding cuts. Not because private contractors provide better services.

“It’s just been a dismal failure,” he said. “It has not resulted in anyway in improvement in how schools are cleaned, how busses are driven, how lawns are mowed, or any of that. It was a situation I think districts were forced into.”

Cook says because the real employer is a third party, schools have a harder time working with staff provided by private contractors.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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