Michigan Republicans Propose Public Education Innovations

Published September 1, 2009

Michigan’s Senate Republicans in June proposed legislation that would allow public schools to convert to independent schools directly run by parents and teachers.

Senate Bill 636, sponsored by state Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland), and several companion bills would give priority to schools that fall behind adequate yearly progress standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) or schools with more than 40 percent “at risk” students. It also would favor cyber-learning programs.

Students would receive the same per-pupil funding as those in other public schools—which starts at about $7,200 per year and varies regionally. Teachers would trade collective bargaining rights with the district for merit pay or pay based on the difficulty of filling positions.

No More Excuses

“We’re done with the excuses,” Kuipers said. “We wanted legislation that would be game-changing. Our hope would be that these would be centers of innovation, that they would resolve issues that have plagued the public schools for years.”

The legislation allows for online programs, high-school dropout recovery programs, career education, and early childhood development programs. The bills have been referred to the Education Committee, and Kuipers said he hopes to move on them by late summer or early fall.

State Sen. Nancy Cassis (R-Novi) who sponsored one of the companion bills, said she would seek to ensure accountability and equal student treatment should SB 636 become law. In addition, she said, she disagrees with some provisions of Kuipers’ bill.

The wide range of programs, Cassis said, extends public education beyond its properly limited K-12 focus and could weigh too heavily on state coffers.

“In a state now cutting basic foundation grants to students because of extremely difficult times, this seems to be a stretch,” Cassis said. “It may be a nice wish list, but I don’t think it’s practical or doable.”

Advocating Charters

Kuipers acknowledges flexible education would require more funding than the state could provide; he hopes local nonprofit and community organizations will partner with schools for the additional funds.

“We recognize there isn’t additional money to go around right now,” said Darin Ackerman, Kuipers’ chief of staff. “It would have to be sort of a team effort.”

Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies—the state charter school association—said the legislation would advance charter schools, which are capped at 150 statewide.

“You’ll end up with a rainbow of variety of people doing those things,” Quisenberry said. “If you look at the best schools in the state, there is really a portfolio of things that are working. We need to have more of that—kids and parents will win.”

Whitney Stewart ([email protected]) writes from Minnesota.

For more information …

Michigan SB 636: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(24komm55haynve45rsfkdw55))/mileg.aspx?page=getobject&objectname=2009-SB-0636&query=on