Under Secretary Endorses Choice Options in Michigan

Published September 1, 2003

U.S. Under Secretary of Education Gene Hickok recently met with charter school advocates, faith-based and community leaders, and parents in the Detroit area to focus on efforts to improve K-12 education in Michigan. During the two-day visit, he explained how the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act contributes to those efforts and also endorsed an innovative local effort to create more charter schools in the Wolverine State.

Michigan charter law caps the number of university-authorized schools; once that cap is reached, colleges cannot issue charters for additional schools even if parents want them. However, on July 15, Hickok and Lori Stillwagon Yaklin, senior advisor on family educational rights, from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, toured a charter school near Belleville that is slated to open this fall.

The charter school, Keystone Academy, is scheduled to open because Bay Mills Community College came to the rescue of frustrated parents and community leaders. As a tribal community college, Bay Mills is not subject to the cap, and it has authorized Keystone and other schools to open later this year.

The education officials walked the grounds of Keystone with Mickey Parish, president of Bay Mills Community College, and L. John Lufkins, the tribal leader. Accompanying them were the school’s local founders, parents of enrolled children, representatives of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, and leaders of National Heritage Academies, the school’s management company.

Hickok was visibly moved when a parent spoke of her prayers for the opportunity to send her child to a better school and her gratefulness for Keystone Academy.

“Without your leadership these parents would not have this hope for a brighter future for their children,” he told Lufkins.

Bay Mills originally wanted to open a charter school on its Upper Peninsula reservation because tribal children were not getting an adequate academic education. As the college leaders became more involved, they realized residents across the state were mired in similar situations. It was then Bay Mills decided to take on the task of authorizing schools statewide.

“We are thankful for the support of the Department of Education and the Bush administration,” said Parish. “I’m glad that they recognize the positive role we play in education and that we can work together to ensure that parents and students have choices.”

Tutoring Needs

The following day, Hickok spoke to 125 faith-based and community leaders at Tried Stone Baptist Church in Detroit. He urged them to consider becoming state-approved tutors to children in their community.

The NCLB Act permits faith-based and community organizations to apply to the state to become authorized supplemental education services providers. If children from low-income families attend schools labeled “in need of improvement” for more than one year, their parents may choose a state-approved tutor for them, with the tutoring fees paid by the district with federal Title I funds.

Partnership with BAEO

Hickok later spoke at an open house in Detroit held by the U.S. Department of Education and the Detroit Chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). More than 100 inner-city parents and leaders listened as Hickok and BAEO’s Detroit Chapter chairman, Lawrence Patrick Jr., passionately called for empowering and trusting parents.

Under NCLB, parents receive information about the performance of their child’s school, and if the school is not performing well they may be able to transfer their child to a higher-performing public school or obtain free tutoring. But many parents don’t need another report card to tell them their child’s school isn’t doing a good job. At the meeting, one parent told Hickok of her frustration and anger with her child’s poor-performing school.

“You should be frustrated and angry,” said Hickok. “Your children deserve better. I hope every parent will take their frustration and turn it into action.”

The under secretary received two standing ovations during his remarks. He called for putting the needs of children ahead of the needs of the educational system.

“No Child Left Behind reflects an attitude that every child can learn and every child counts no matter what their background or where they live,” Hickok told the enthusiastic crowd.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

Information on the Bay Mills Community College’s charter school program is available at the college’s Web site at http://www.bmcc.edu.

Information on Keystone Academy is available from the Web site of National Heritage Academies at http://www.heritageacademies.com.

The Web site of the Office of Innovation and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education is at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OII.