Glass: Charter School Bill Could Forever Change the Landscape of Education in Michigan

Bill to lift cap on charter schools passes, awaits Gov. Snyder's signature.


Though Gov. Rick Snyder's signature is still pending, officials with the were certain Thursday that the measures to lift the cap on charter schools and cyber schools operating in Michigan will become law.

What's uncertain, and somewhat uncomfortable to think about, is how big of a shift this could be for Michigan's public education system, Superintendent Rob Glass said.

"We might see a fundamental shift that takes us where we may never see where we are today again," he said at a well-attended school board meeting Thursday night at the Doyle Center. "We have to think about how we're going to compete in this new landscape."

That landscape changed Wednesday night when the Michigan House voted 58-49 to pass Senate Bill 618. The measure passed the state Senate earlier this year on a party-line vote but changes to the final language in the differing bills had to be made and were approved late Thursday, the Detroit News reported. Snyder is expected to sign the bill and make the changes effective by the end of March.

Michigan currently has 255 charter schools and many residents are relegated to waiting lists due to demand in some areas. More can be established if they are sponsored by a major university and meet certain geographical criteria, the News reported.

Republicans believe opening more charters will provide more options for families and improve education.

"Michigan's children should not have to wait for adults in government to remove limits on their future," said State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, chairman of the House Education Committee. "By phasing out this arbitrary, outdated cap today, thousands of students currently on charter school waiting lists were given real hope for a better tomorrow."

House Republicans failed to muster enough votes to grant the charter legislation immediate effect, so it wouldn't become law until 90 days after the last day of the session, scheduled for Dec. 25.

Democrats and public school proponents argued that charters aren't subject to the same standards of transparency and accountability as traditional public schools, and they object to for-profit companies administering education.

The changes will also dilute the funding available to districts and force them to jockey with new competitors for those dollars, Glass argued.

"We’ll now have to enter these markets, not because it’s where what we want to do, but just to retain the resources we have," he said. "As hard as we all fought this because of no restrictions on quality, and as much as we opposed it, it seemed like this was going to happen from the start

Board President Ingrid Day held up printouts of the bills and changes for parents to look at Thursday night and urged them to get involved.

"There are a lot of changes around the corner and you need stay informed and involved. We could use your help with that," she said.

Linda P December 16, 2011 at 12:22 PM
I've always believed more competition is good and the cream rises to the top. Yes, some districts may need to consolidate......even the ones in my own backyard and that is as it should be. Hopefully, this will force consolidation of some of the 500+ school districts in Michigan and put dollars in education and not administration.
Jenny Greenwell December 16, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Michigan's public schools need to improve, and more competition in the education marketplace will drive movement toward better educational outcomes for our students. Fundamental changes and consolidation of districts is necessary, to concentrate our limited resources on academic achievement. I hope that this is just the beginning of many needed legislative actions to bring those changes into effect.
Elizabeth Fellows December 16, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Of course competition is good. But the very nature of the word implies a level playing field. The very loosely written rules for charters are completely different than the laws and mandates for traditional public schools; it is unfair competition from the start. Charters don't even have the most basic of educational quality mandates. No oversight, no duty to report student performance. Public schools must admit any child that lives within it's boundaries and provide equal education for them. Charters may pick and choose whom they admit and what grades they want to include. And funny you should mention consolidation of traditional public schools and administrative salaries. You see, each charter school is its own district with NO requirement to consolidate services. In addition, check out the average per pupil spending in a charter...there's plenty left over for the profit of the owner, not necessarily organized within our state, even our country.
Linda December 16, 2011 at 03:09 PM
I believe that you are incorrect Elizabeth when you say, "charters may pick and choose who they admit", I just read the charter school legislation and it does not allow that. "It says they must take anyone as long as they have room". So that would say to me that as it refers to admittance polices both charters and public schools are on a level playing field. Please go to the www.MI.Gov website....I have cut and pasted it for your reference....below.... 18. May a charter school be selective in its admissions policy? A charter school may not be selective. It may not screen out students based on disability, race, religion, sex, test scores, etc. It may predetermine the ages, grades, and number of students it will serve. A random selection process must be used if the number of applicants exceeds the school’s enrollment capacity.
-Elizabeth- December 16, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Linda, There is a selection process simply by predetermining the ages, grades and number of students it will serve. A school that only accepts K-3 will not have to deal with a student who has fallen behind and is now in the upper elementary grades or higher.
Linda December 16, 2011 at 04:17 PM
I honestly believe that institutions that are threatened by charter schools will split hairs ad infinitum to insist the playing field isn't level. The auto companies used to do the same thing, constantly complaining that the field wasn't level, that the Japanese imports had all these advantages. People just wanted the choice of a better product. It seems a good parallel, people want choice in schools, if the public schools were superior in all aspects people wouldn't be looking for another choice...it's the law of the marketplace and opponents of charters want to solve their problems by limiting choice. Get better and no one will choose charters.
-Elizabeth- December 16, 2011 at 04:57 PM
Children are not cars.
Linda December 16, 2011 at 05:21 PM
I know..... the situation is totally unique, there are absolutely no comparisons, you are totally right, I am totally wrong, charters are bad, only public schools can do the job, only public schools should educate children, there should be no choice. It seems this is what it takes for you to agree or acknowledge any point whatsoever that I may make.
-Elizabeth- December 16, 2011 at 07:14 PM
By your response, you are reading more into my statement than intended. Children are simply not widgets. Charter schools do have a place and there are some fine charter schools just like there are fine private and public schools. There are also some that are not so good just like there are not so good private and public schools. I believe the change in the school landscape referred to in the article, is as much about the oversight of all Michigan schools as it is about school funding and student achievement. I believe that the solution to improving Michigan's schools runs far deeper than simply providing competition. Competition is good. It is one reason why I believe the Bloomfield area schools are so good, they have to be or our residents would send their children to one of the fine nearby private schools, but it is only one reason. I do not think competition on its own will fix the system of education. To me, that is the difference between cars and children.
Diane Young December 17, 2011 at 01:39 PM
If there were waiting lists, why didn't the current charter schools just build additional buildings or lease space? There were no restrictions against that.
Nate Simpson December 21, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Actually, I do find a couple areas to be "unfair". Michigan law does not require districts to provide busing for regular education students although most districts do so, and at a pretty significant cost. I am not aware of any charter school that provides free transportation to and from the school for its pupils. It strikes me that to be "fair" the per pupil funding for charter schools should be reduced by the amount the public school districts spends, on a per pupil basis, for transportation of students in the district where the charter school is located. The other area of "unfairness" is in dealing with students with significant disabilities. Charter schools are not permitted to turn away such students, but there is little incentive for a parent to send a severely handicapped child to a charter school with no experience and little to no infrastructure to educate and assist such children. Again, it strikes me that to be fair from a competitive standpoint, we could take the amounts that the local public school district spends on a per pupil basis to address the specialized needs of kids with IEPs and compare that with the amounts that the charter school spends to address the needs of kids with IEPs who attend the charter school. If the public school spends more on a per pupil basis then the local charter school's funding should be cut, on a per pupil basis, by that same amount.


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