Local Control of Public Education at Stake-
Your Opinion Matters; Make your Voice Heard!
UPDATE: The following piece of legislation has been stalled. We will keep you informed of the latest news regarding this matter as it becomes available!
I'm compelled to share information with you about three bills being debated on by legislators before they break for the holidays. I find these bills troubling, and I thank you in advance for taking the time to read this entire article so that you may be informed and empowered to contact our legislators and let them know your thoughts.
An introduction to House Bills 6004, 5923, and Senate Bill 1358
Last year, the Michigan legislature created what’s called the EAA, the Educational Achievement Authority. The EAA was created as a statewide system to take over the lowest performing schools. The first schools assigned to the EAA this fall were 15 schools in Detroit that were removed from Detroit Public Schools and placed under the complete authority of the EAA. Right now, it’s too early to determine if the EAA is being successful in managing these schools or not.
Even though the jury is still out, the Michigan legislature is currently debating House Bill (HB) 6004 and Senate Bill (SB) 1358 which would increase the size and scope of the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA) so it won’t be confined to Detroit but will branch out to all areas of our state, including Clare and Gladwin Counties. At face value, the EAA sounds like it might be a good way to make a difference in the Detroit schools. However, HB 6004 and SB 1358 go far beyond taking control of schools in Detroit. The bills also allow the EAA to open its own schools anywhere in the state using existing vacant school buildings, and the school districts that own those buildings wouldn't have a choice in the matter. If these bills pass, the EAA wouldn’t have to follow the same rules as our local school districts must follow.
Another troublesome bill being considered is HB 5923. This bill would create new types of schools that would not be accountable to the local community or the Michigan Department of Education. These new types of schools include those run by for-profit companies located outside the state of Michigan.
The following are questions I posed to our legislators over the last couple weeks as they decide how they're going to vote on the bills.
-Why will for-profit companies located outside of the state of Michigan be able to access taxpayer dollars to educate students in Michigan?
-What are the success rates for the for-profit companies with students in Michigan? Are those success rates representative of experience with all types of students in all portions of the state? (The for-profit company that took over Muskegon Heights Public Schools hired 80 new teachers to start the 2012-2013 school year...more than 25% of those teachers have already quit.) For four months, the EAA has had authority over 15 schools in Detroit. How does that automatically make the EAA qualified to run schools throughout the state of Michigan?
-Why do the bills require a local school district to annually notify the state with information regarding its vacant buildings so they can be used at will by for-profit companies or the EAA to provide education to K-12 students? What if the sale or lease of those buildings is a way to generate revenue for that district? (After all, the local taxpayers built and paid for those buildings.)
-Why won't the EAA or the for-profit companies have to abide by the same rules and regulations that local school districts do? Why can they deny enrollment to certain students based on test scores or other factors? Why won't they have to administer the same tests community schools must administer? (How can the success rates between for-profit schools, EAA schools, and community schools be judged when it's not an “apples to apples” comparison?)
-How can you rectify the creation of new schools when at the same time you are offering financial incentives for school districts to collaborate and consolidate in order to save money?
-How do these bills benefit students in rural communities? Community schools in Clare and Gladwin Counties receive the lowest per-pupil funding in the state already and have cut programs for students as a result of funding reductions the last several years. With the creation of more schools, financial resources will be spread thinner. These bills would further widen the gap between the resources available to rural students as opposed to the resources available to students who live in cities and suburbs.
-Do you know the success rates for students taking classes online? Do you know there are significant parts of Clare and Gladwin Counties that do not have access to high speed Internet? Many of the proponents of these bills are touting the advantages of online learning, but many students are not successful with online classes unless there is in-person mentoring or teaching, too.
After posing the questions above, I concluded with the following message to our legislators:
As you know, in Clare and Gladwin Counties, the local school systems are the hub of the communities. The elected Boards of Education have made decisions over the years to plan for the future to the best of their abilities given the information they have at the time and the input they get from community members. The citizens in our counties work hard to make ends meet when they are faced with challenges, and I'm proud to be part of that “can do” attitude and work ethic.
If these bills pass, the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" will grow as scarce economic resources are spread even thinner over a greater number of schools. Using simple logic, there will be more resources readily available to students who live in urban or suburban areas while rural students, once again, are overlooked.
I'm reminded of a comment I heard earlier this fall from one of the contributing authors of these bills. He said that if people aren't happy their school receives the lowest per-pupil amount, they should move to a district that has higher funding per student. That comment was insensitive at best, but is more accurately described as condescending and confrontational without consideration that some of us, including many of your constituents, choose to live in rural settings.
Please don't be fooled...these bills will ultimately result in a voucher system of public education, an idea that was soundly rejected by the voters of Michigan many years ago.
I didn't add the following comments, but I wish I had.
As a product of public education, a former teacher, and current administrator, I am a firm believer that public education is and always will be a pillar of our nation. Is there room for improvement in public education? Absolutely. And, I might add, Michigan has implemented accountability measures in the past several years that hold all of us to a higher standard than ever before. More important than meeting the accountability measures set by the state, most educators I know feel the greatest commitment to meeting their local community's expectations.
Many members of my extended family are not such loyal supporters of public education as I am. But, I can assure you, they are outraged by these bills. They do NOT want to see the empty buildings in their communities taken over by the EAA or for-profit companies; they want local community members to serve as Board Members. As owners of small businesses, they know the importance of having vibrant brick and mortar schools in their communities. Just last week when I attended a girls' basketball game with my parents, my dad asked me, "What the heck is going on in Lansing and who do I need to talk to about it? Who's behind all this?"
I hope you will take the time to learn more about these bills and form your own opinion. I also hope you will contact our legislators to let them know your thoughts. Time is of the essence since these bills are being debated right now before the legislators break for Christmas.
Click here for our legislators' contact information.
Superintendent, Clare-Gladwin RESD