New legislation introduced last week in the Michigan House would ban for three years any new charter public schools from opening in the vicinity of two conventional public school districts that have consolidated. Two districts considering consolidation are located in the district represented by bill sponsor Rep. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, who told his bill would “protect a newly merged school district from companies attempting to capitalize on the tenuous transition of consolidating.” Five other lawmakers from both parties have cosponsored the bill.

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The representatives may mean well, but the effect of this bill would be to place the status quo school establishment’s interests, including school boards, superintendents and the teachers union ahead of the families and children they represent. Those children deserve a chance at obtaining the best education possible — even if that means attending a charter public school their parents have chosen.

Consolidating conventional school districts may in fact be arduous, but that doesn’t justify putting bureaucracies and their beneficiaries before parents and children. Yet under this proposed law, for three critical years in their educational careers, those students would have their educational opportunities arbitrarily limited, with some stuck attending conventional schools that may not best meet their needs.

This type of protectionism prevents an important check on the consolidation process by blocking parents’ ability to “vote with their feet.” Dissatisfied parents might seek to enroll their children in a new charter school, providing a strong incentive for districts to pay close attention to the wants and needs of these families. When districts face this threat of competition, both groups of parents — those who opt to leave and those who opt to stay — benefit.

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