Michigan Legislature Lifts Caps on Cyber-Schools

Published May 8, 2012

In the fall of 2011 the state of Michigan opened its first two cyber charter schools—the only ones allowed by state law. In less than a year the waiting list had grown to 10,000 applicants because of limits on enrollment.

Now some of those waiting students may get their chance. Senate Bill 619, “Repeal Restrictions on Public ‘Cyber-Schools,'” passed in the state Senate and was approved by the state House on April 26.

The bill, which awaits a signing decision by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, was introduced in September 2011 by Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton). The bill would raise the cap on the number of cyber schools allowed in the state and increase the number of students allowed to enroll.

Blended Learning
The combination of brick-and-mortar schools with online learning has prompted the phrase “blended learning” and become of the hottest topics in education.

Michigan law currently allows creation of only two cyber charter schools and limits the total number of students enrolled to 1,000. If SB 619 is signed by Gov. Snyder, the each charter will be allowed to enroll up to 1,000 students.

Cyber v. Conventional
Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based think tank, analyzed how the spending of one cyber school in Michigan compared to conventional districts.

The Michigan Virtual Charter Academy spent about the same percentage of general fund dollars on instruction as conventional districts (61 percent to 60 percent) and about the same on instruction support (9 percent to 10 percent). Cyber schools spent 17 percent of general fund dollars on administration compared to 12 percent for conventional districts.

But Van Beek noted some cyber school expenses categorized under administration could be counted under “operations and maintenance” in conventional school budgets.

‘Risky for Profit’
Finances have been a target of cyber school critics. The Michigan Education Association teachers union asserts cyber schools are operated by “for profit” companies who put earnings ahead of education.

“Cyber schools are a risky for-profit adventure that will only benefit corporations and CEOs,” the MEA states on its Web site. “There’s no evidence that students, public education, or this state will see any benefits.”

Jerry Johnson, executive director of communications and development at Genesee Intermediate School District, was quoted in an article on the MEA Web site: “SB 619 presents the potential to Wal-Mart public education.”

State Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester), said the critics that cite profits as a negative of cyber schools are applying a double standard.

“They don’t have a problem with big businesses that provide textbooks,” he said. “This is providing more choice for parents. I’m not afraid of parents making choices.”

Tom Gantert ([email protected]) is senior capitol correspondent at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.

Internet Info

“Michigan Senate Bill 619: ‘Repeal Restrictions on Public ‘Cyber-Schools,'” Sen. Patrick Colbeck, September 2011: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%28neqeeq55hdthliqcap4xv055%29%29/mileg.aspx?page=getobject&objectname=2011-SB-0619