Charter schools, authorized by the Michigan legislature in December 1993, offer new, innovative opportunities for teachers, students and parents in a less regulated environment. Each and every charter school is, by definition, a "school of choice," since no student is compelled to attend. Charter schools are public schools created when a state university, community college, intermediate school district, or local school district approves an application and grants a charter.
Most education reformers welcome the introduction of charter schools as a positive force for improvement, and 29 states now have charter school legislation. The Michigan Education Association strongly opposed the legislation that made them possible, but it was the MEA’s attempt to stop a state university from creating them that made front page news in 1994.
A May 26, 1994, letter from a high-ranking MEA official to Saginaw Valley State University president Eric Gilbertson threatened to "discontinue accepting the placement of SVSU student teachers" in classrooms where MEA members teach if SVSU moved to charter a new school without MEA approval.
In his letter, the MEA’s Region 12-D Uniserv Office executive director David C. Sabedra also threatened to encourage MEA members to sever professional ties to the university and withdraw alumni monetary support. The MEA, he said, would also try to get school superintendents and boards of education to end their involvement with SVSU programs.
President Gilbertson said that the university "cannot allow any organization to influence its policy by such tactics. If we do something they don’t like, they’ll punish our students. That’s unacceptable." He called the letter "foolish."
The Sabedra letter drew strong protests in numerous newspaper editorials across the state.