Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Please Take Action: Michigan Parents for Schools legislative alert

Have you been wondering what can you do for your schools? We do not need to stand idly by as legislators work to destroy our public school systems--we can take action! I am printing Steve Norton's legislative alert in its entirety because I think it is so important, and I ask you to share this with others as well. At the bottom of every post there is a little greyed-in blox that allows you to share the post via email, Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Google Bzz, and even Google Plus! I am asking you to a) use the Michigan Parents for Schools advocacy system, or your own email or letterhead, to send your senators a message and b) share this information with others. Your schools will thank you.

Also: If you have questions about these, put them in the comments and I will ask Steve to reply to them.

Legislative alert: "Charter school package" could dramatically undermine our schools

Dear supporters of public education,
Much-anticipated legislation was introduced today that would dramatically reshape the public school landscape in Michigan. We cannot afford to wait and see how the legislative process works itself out - we must start making our voices heard now.
Use the Michigan Parents for Schools advocacy system to contact your Senator!
The four-bill package, driven by co-sponsor Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Claire), was just made available to the public today - coinciding with the start of hearings on these bills in the Senate Education committee.
The bills can only be described as an assault on traditional public schools in this state. Based on a preliminary review of the bill texts, the proposed legislation would:
  • remove the overall cap on charter schools in the state;
  • create a new class of charter schools, "conversion schools," which can be created at the instigation of the teachers or parents of a traditional public school;
  • remove limits on the number of recently-introduced "cyber schools;"
  • require school districts to accept non-resident students under "schools of choice" if they have the capacity;
  • allow traditional school districts to privatize their teaching staff (contract with independent organizations to provide classroom teachers rather than employ them directly); 
  • ensure that charters and similar schools authorized by public school districts would not be covered by any existing collective bargaining agreements.
The sponsors of the legislation claim that these measures will drive increased achievement in our schools. At MIPFS, we are hard pressed not to see this as an effort to do school reform "on the cheap," thoughtlessly applying the doctrine of competition rather than working to ensure that every school can provide its students with a quality education.
Under the current system, "competition" for students does not drive excellence; it simply steals resources from already-struggling schools. Charter schools, originally a venue for experimentation in education, are now being put forward as the "solution" for those families who have the time and resources to actively support their child's education. Tens of thousands of children who do not have that kind of support system will be left to fend for themselves in declining traditional districts. Communities, instead of joining together in their common commitment to educate their children, will be segmented into multiple educational enclaves - eroding our communities, worsening inequality and encouraging re-segregation.
We will have more details as the days go by. In the meantime, we encourage you to use our advocacy system to let your Senator know how you feel about these proposals!

Steve Norton
Executive Director
Preliminary details on the bills:
SB 618, sponsored by Sen. Pavlov: changes to charter school rules, and teacher hiring for all districts
Charter schools:
The bill eliminates caps on the number of charters that can be authorized by community colleges and state universities, and removes the geographical restrictions on those authorized by community colleges as well as restrictions on charters inside Detroit Public Schools
The bill also removes the requirements that charters authorized by school districts must be part of the same collective bargaining agreements as other school employees
Teacher hiring:
The bill would allow school districts to contract with outside entities (for-profit corporations, non-profits, labor unions, etc) to provide teachers. By implication, these teachers would only be covered by a collective bargaining agreement if they had negotiated one with the intermediate employer. Teachers hired in this fashion would probably also not be part of the state teacher pensions (MPSERS) system, as is currently the case with charter schools.

SB 619, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Twp.): changes to "cyber school" rules
Bill removes limits on the number of "cyber" schools which can be authorized, and eliminates the original requirement that these school target "urban and at-risk student populations" as well as limits on total enrollment

SB 620, sponsored by Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc): conversion schools
  • Creates a new class of charter schools which are existing traditional public schools being "converted" into a charter
  • A majority of the teachers or parents at a school may ask for such status, and if denied they can petition to place the question on the ballot
  • Conversion schools can receive capital and operating revenues the same as other schools in the district
  • Employees of conversion schools are not covered by existing collective bargaining agreements
SB 621, sponsored by Sen. Geoff Hansen (R-Hart): payment for public services to non-public school students
Changes the rules on what districts may provide services to non-public school students; if the local district does not want to provide a service, any other district in the same ISD can provide those services and receive state aid for doing so (had been only contiguous districts).
Requires districts to accept non-resident students under schools of choice, if the district determines that it has available capacity. Removes restrictions on SOC that used to restrict it to within an ISD. Does not change the rule that per-pupil allowance is the lower of original or chosen district.


  1. I object to all of these proposed changes except I don't see what is problematic about expanding school of choice. Wouldn't this equalize the education that students receive? I like the idea that Detroit students could go to Grosse Pointe.

  2. The real problem with schools of choice in Michigan is how schools are funded: if a student leaves one district and goes to another, they take their per pupil funding with them. But the losing district doesn't save nearly as much money from one less kid as they lose in funding. Willow Run is a perfect example of this - what I call the "death spiral." So it's a zero-sum game.

    More to the point, this is a pretend band-aid that the legislature is trying to sell as a solution to improving our schools. Some of them honestly believe that competition makes for better schools. That in turn rests on the assumption that all schools could be great if only the teachers and administrators worked harder. Things like poverty have nothing to do with it (Sen. Pavlov, the Sen Education Cmte chair, says so, so it must be true. No joke.)

    Rather than working to make sure all schools and districts have the resources and support to give every child a solid education, they are providing a relief valve for the few who can take advantage of it (SoC kids almost never get transportation, and by definition have very involved families). That leaves everyone else in a declining district forced to make repeated rounds of budget cuts. WR again.

    It's school "reform" on the cheap, and it will not improve education for those most at risk. This is not the direction to go. But it does serve both the political and ideological needs of many legislators.

  3. I would add a couple of things to that--one is that the way the current legislation is written, the school district always gets the LOWER of the original or chosen district. So the school district receiving students may get significantly less, or a little less, than they do for their "own" students. They could incentivize this program (is incentivize a word?) by giving the receiving school the *higher* of the original or chosen district, but they don't--which to me says that it is all about money.

    The other critique I have is that this may be a case where something is, or could be, good for individual students--but not good for society as a whole. Our public schools are generally predicated on the idea that the community invests in the schools. As that tie is lessened, I think the entire public school system is put at risk--both schools that aren't working, and (the majority of schools) those that are working.