Nevertheless, the budget bills do outline some major changes in how we fund our schools:
Use of the School Aid Fund to support community colleges and state universities is now a permanent feature (the final conference report includes intent language to change the name of the SAF to the “Comprehensive Education Fund”);
The commitment to maintaining the funding stream for K-12 education has been seriously eroded – for example, with the failure to replace earmarked revenue lost when the Michigan Business Tax was ended.
Both MIRS News and the Grand Rapids Press are reporting that the emergency manager running schools in Muskegon Heights has proposed replacing the public school district with a network of charter schools.
The House Education Committee held more hearings today on the remainder of the bills in the so-called “parent empowerment” package. We offered testimony opposing one bill in particular: Senate Bill 619, which would remove any limits on the number or enrollment of entirely online charter schools, called “cyber schools” in the bill. While the use of online learning has been growing, the focus of this bill is on K-12 schools which have no physical location and serve students entirely over the internet.
We delivered testimony on 20 September to the Senate Education Committee, asking its members not to move forward with charter expansion, new kinds of charters, or teacher privatization.
The bills before the committee would remove the numerical and geographic limits on charter schools, introduce a new kind of charter, the “conversion school,” expand “cyber schools,” and allow schools to privatize their teachers.
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.
Talk of an ever-growing flow of money to schools is, like many such things, wildly exaggerated. But it does serve to frame the debate about school funding in such a way that cutting schools seems only “fair.”
We started to hear it during the debate over next year’s state budget. Lawmakers backing the governor’s budget responded to constituents worried about cuts to K-12 schools with two, oddly contradictory, palliatives: that money for schools continued to “pour in” even though there were fewer students; and that “getting spending in line with reality means understanding our lack of revenue.” Sometimes these earnest-sounding claims were in the same paragraph.
Because you're a supporter of public education, I know you've heard from us about the "tenure bills" now before the Senate - and I'm sure you've heard from a lot of other groups, too. This is the first time we've felt we had to go in a different direction than some of our allies, and I wanted to explain personally why we're asking you to oppose these bills.
People who support public schools can be split on this issue, so it helps to understand what the issues really are. Lots of folks who support these bills are focused on the need to reform teacher tenure. They want to make it less cumbersome to remove teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom. And that's perfectly reasonable, as long as there are protections to make it fair.
6/27: See our update in the comment section about the bills as reported from committee. The full Senate will be voting soon….
Last week, the state House of Representatives approved a package of bills that would remake the teacher tenure process, change the rules regarding seniority, and enforce a state-wide teacher evaluation framework that would guide promotion and firing decisions. While the bills individually appear to address reasonable concerns about the difficulty of disciplining tenured staff and the “last-in-first-out” system used for layoffs, taken together they have the potential to do tremendous damage to our public schools.
School districts would have to move quickly to institute a comprehensive evaluation system which relies primarily on standardized tests – tests which do not yet exist for most grades or subject areas. The burden on administration would increase exponentially, with no added resources to make sure the evaluations are performed effectively. Teachers would have no guaranteed voice in the construction of evaluation systems, since the bills would prohibit collective bargaining on those issues. Finally, the changes would, in our view, create a powerful incentive for principals and administrators – who face unrelenting budget pressures – to bias performance evaluations so that it would be easier to remove senior, more expensive teachers regardless of their actual performance. As a result, Michigan Parents for Schools cannot support this legislation and calls on the state Senate to defeat the bills.