In Chicago and Detroit, recent policies that encourage parental involvement in the governance of schools are showing promise. The concept should be broadened and extended statewide in Michigan. Existing public schools could then elect to become "empowered" schools, which would give them options to form their own parental governance councils or parent-elected boards of directors, hire their own school principals, and introduce innovations in curricula. Taxing authority would continue to be vested in the local district.
Purchase of District Services.
School "district" organizations currently provide a range of services to individual schools. In at least one state, New York, Intermediate School District (ISD) services are supported not by separate millage but by the "purchase" of those services by schools. We believe Michigan should seriously explore putting some or all school district services on a voluntary purchase basis, maximizing the flexibility of schools to "shop around" (including in the open market) and thereby injecting new incentives for district organizations to manage their costs and enhance the attractiveness of their services.
Private management of public schools has shown great promise in Baltimore, Maryland, where Education Alternatives, Inc. of Bloomington, Minnesota now operates nine public schools with approximately 5,000 kindergarten through middle school students. The company's contract with the Baltimore district stipulates everything from the number of computers per student to details regarding staff size and student performance. The company has substantial freedom to introduce private sector management efficiency and it knows that it must produce results or lose the contract.
The Minneapolis School Board in Minnesota may soon put its district under private management. In its search to fill its vacant superintendent post, the Board has included a private consulting firm as one of five "finalists."
Such forward thinking is needed in Michigan. The Mackinac Center suggests that school districts seriously consider private management, following and perhaps even broadening the experience of Baltimore.
Information for parents should be provided by schools, as to programs, expenditures and student performance. A statewide bench-marking system which simply and precisely measures the effectiveness of schools both at various stages of the educational process and upon graduation should be incorporated into each school's "Report Card." We should encourage the development of private information and testing services and "accrediting" agencies.