Two Bills, Two Standards

Following final votes this week, a bill to repeal Michigan’s motorcycle helmet mandate is on its way to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. Legislators who favor the repeal invoked arguments rooted in freedom of choice and individual liberty to support it.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, lamented that people who just “want the freedom to choose” were being denied it by the motorcycle helmet law. Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, says the purpose of the repeal is to “give people choices.”

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Meanwhile, Senate Bill 619 remains stalled in the House. This bill would repeal an artificial cap on the number of parents who can exercise the freedom to choose an online public charter school for their sons and daughters. Reportedly, there are thousands of parents asking for this choice.

So, why do Michigan politicians appear to favor freedom of choice for motorcyclists but not for parents?

To be fair, unlike motorcycle riding, online charter schools are directly supported with taxpayer dollars, meaning lawmakers have a duty to ensure that money is spent well. That said, a proven system is already in place to make sure this happens. Like all other public charter schools, online charters are subject to dual public oversight — a local charter school board of public officials and a public university that acts as an authorizer and performance monitor.

The real reason for House inaction on SB 619 may be less seemly: Also unlike helmetless motorcycle riding, online charter schools are opposed by a powerful special interest — the conventional government school establishment and unions — who view the competition that these new, innovative schools pose as a threat to their lucrative monopoly. Taxpayers pour about $19 billion into Michigan’s public school system every year. 

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