Research & Commentary: Michigan School Reforms

Published October 26, 2011

In September 2011, Michigan state senators introduced seven education reform bills to lift the state cap on charter schools, introduce a Parent Trigger, expand online learning, allow schools to outsource some teaching functions, and institute open public school enrollment.

Critics of the measures fear “corporate-led” education systems, saying these will give children a poor education and waste state dollars. They also say diverting taxpayer dollars from traditional public schools could hurt the schools’ bottom lines.

Proponents contend the bills expand parental choice and influence in education, which will increase competition and ultimately lead to excellence. That will help reorient the state’s education system around children instead of entrenched adult interests such as administrators and teacher unions. As evidence of public demand for such changes, they note two-thirds of the state’s charter schools have waiting lists.

They also note profit historically has been a strong incentive for charter companies and others to provide the best service at a low cost, since this increases their reputation among customers and thus keeps them in business. The lack of such real-world pressures on existing public schools, they note, has created a state system blithely expanding school funding while student achievement has tumbled since the 1980s.

The following documents offer more information about the Michigan education reform bills from a variety of perspectives.

Senate Panel Backs Lifting Cap on Michigan Charter Schools
Michigan’s Senate Education Committee approved a measure removing the state cap on charter schools, one of seven school reform bills working through the statehouse, reports the Detroit Free Press. The vote split 3-2 along party lines, with Republicans in favor. The bill will move to the Senate floor for a vote while the committee considers the other six bills, which introduce a Parent Trigger, mandate open enrollment, expand the state’s dual enrollment program, and allow public and private schools to share some services.

Time to Take School Choice in Michigan to the Next Level
Michigan legislators should adopt the seven-bill education reform package currently in the statehouse and reach beyond that to allow vouchers by amending the state constitution, writes Michael Van Beek of the Mackinac Center. Expanding education opportunities and the education market inevitably leads to better schools through competition, he explains.

Poll Shows Michigan Voters Lukewarm to Governor’s Education Proposal
A poll commissioned by the state’s largest teacher union finds voters about evenly split on school reform proposals from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, including removing the state cap on charter schools, outsourcing some school services, and requiring all school districts with extra space to accept transfer students from worse districts, writes the Detroit Free Press. The poll’s 800 respondents opposed privatizing teaching by a 68 percent majority, but they split about evenly on “right to teach” legislation allowing teachers to opt out of unions.

Lawmakers Hope to Lure Successful Charter School Companies to Michigan by Waiving Property Taxes, Lifting Cap
The bill that would remove the cap on Michigan charter schools also would eliminate property taxes on charter schools since charters can’t collect taxes for buildings or improvements, reports The Grand Rapids Press. The provision aims to attract high-quality charters to the state, said state Sen. Phil Pavlov (R), chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Privatization of Michigan Public Schools Called ‘Very Real’ Possibility
Michigan state Sen. Bert Johnson attacked a legislative proposal to expand charter schools as a “privatization” “threat,” reports the Kalamazoo Gazette. Expanding the number of charter schools would mean more schools make decisions based on a “bottom line” and “profit and loss,” Johnson claimed. Others at a forum where Johnson delivered his remarks criticized the state for reducing education spending.

Guest Column: Charter Schools Are Bright Spot for Education in Michigan
Students in Michigan charter schools—especially minorities—score higher on state assessment tests than their traditional public school counterparts, notes Dan Quisenberry in The Grand Rapids Press. Two-thirds of the state’s charter schools have waiting lists, he writes. Charters thrive on innovation and empower parents, Quisenberry notes, which he cites as reasons to support and expand their availability.

Commentary: Research Shows Parental Choice Works
Abundant, high-quality research demonstrates that school choice initiatives such as charter schools, vouchers, and tuition tax credits positively affect student learning, says Michael Van Beek of the Mackinac Center. A wide array of random assignment studies tie such programs to increased student test scores and parent satisfaction, both for students enrolled in choice programs and those at other local schools.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].