Michigan’s Capitol was full of exuberant students, teachers and parents from all over the state, as more than 250 people turned out Jan. 27 to celebrate National School Choice Week. The event, one of thousands across the country, was co-hosted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Parent Advocates for Choice in Education and other key school choice partners. Its purpose: support educational freedom through homeschooling, traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools and magnet schools.
Officials from some nontraditional schools say they have had a significant increase in enrollment since the COVID-19 pandemic began. They give several reasons to explain the surge, including the decision by many schools to close their doors to in-person instruction. Some parents report wanting more daily involvement in what their kids are learning. Others have realized the benefits of homeschooling or the flexibility of online instruction after being forced into it by lockdowns.
Barack Obama Leadership Academy, a Detroit K-8 charter school that participated in the event, teaches an Afrocentric curriculum. “We pride ourselves as a mom-and-pop district where everybody knows your name,” said Assistant Principal Horace E. Stone Jr.
Students wearing bright yellow scarves were eager to share their experiences and discuss exhibits they created to display at the event. Weston Halloran and Aiden Roscoe from the Livingston County charter school Light of the World Academy showed off “Verde City,” a project they created for the international Future City competition.
High school students Carter Brigantz, Haley Ramsey and Dominic Berger explained that theylove the freedom that Kensington Woods Schools, another charter school, gives them to explore their creativity. Ramsey, a senior who has attended the school for five years, said students get to choose a topic that inspires them in art and music. They also have, she says, opportunities to be recognized for their work.
Henry Ripple, a senior at West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids, spoke to the crowd about his great appreciation for “a learning environment where students challenge one another in and outside the classroom.” Ripple also praised teachers who “support me in everything I do, and to help me achieve my goals.”
A teacher at an online charter school expressed her support for family educational choice to the crowd in the Capitol Rotunda. “I think the last two years have shown how crucial parental involvement is,” said Hattie Dornbush of Michigan Connections Academy.
Corey DeAngelis, national director of research at the American Federation for Children, was the keynote speaker. He fired up the crowd when he declared that “2021 was the year we decided to fund students, not systems.” In all, 18 states last year adopted or expanded programs that support parents’ ability to choose from private education options. Michigan could have become the 19th state, but for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s November veto of the Let Kids Learn student scholarship plan.
DeAngelis said that Michigan should apply the same logic that’s already used to fund choice in public or private education at colleges anduniversities through Pell grants. When it comes to preschool students, he said, the Great Start Readiness Program allows parents to exercise choice among various kinds of providers as well.
He rallied everyone at the event to fight for a new education initiative, Let Kids Learn, that could put Michigan parents back in the driver’s seat of their children’s education.
Jessie Bagos is one of the parents represented by Mackinac Center Legal Foundation in a federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan. She and the Legal Foundation seek to break down a daunting legal barrier to families exercising what she describes as “real school choice.” Bagos shared at the event her family’s struggle when Royal Oak Schools closed down in-person instruction for her twin boys’ kindergarten year, while her friends’ private schools remained open.
“This is how 2022 also began for many Michigan families,” she said. “None of us should have to be in that position again.