News Story

Challenging the Rhetoric in the War on Charter Schools – Part II

Democratic Leader: '[School choice] is a choice in theory but it really doesn't exist'

Rep. Lipton

House Democrats want to place a moratorium on opening any new charter public schools in Michigan. They have introduced House Bill 5852 to do so.

Legislation such as this bill, offered by the minority party in the House amid election campaigning, has little chance of moving and isn’t likely to even get a hearing. But from a larger perspective, the call for a moratorium on new charters is seen by some as part of an overall war on charter public schools.

This “war” is backed by a coalition of interests, most notably teachers unions, and involves attacks on various fronts, including from the State Board of Education and some elements of the news media.

In practical terms House Bill 5852 is an expression of the position held by the House Democratic caucus regarding charter schools. The introduction of the bill gave the party the chance to publicize and provide rhetorical support for that position at a Capitol press conference Sept. 18.

At that press conference, Capitol Confidential asked several questions. The first of those questions and the response to it were featured in a previous article. The following centers on the second question Capitol Confidential asked and the response it received, which was given by Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.

This question and response is followed by an observation on that response from Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project.

Rep. Lipton had just argued in favor of the moratorium based on the claim that some charter schools are not transparent in areas such as financial disclosure. Capitol Confidential asked the following:

“But if the parents were unhappy, [they could] just remove their child from the school — whereas if they didn’t have the choice of a charter they’d be stuck with the school assigned to them by their ZIP code?”

Rep. Lipton’s response:

Well, if poverty wasn’t an issue; where there was a universal transportation system [and] where parents were completely in control of the means by which they got their child to school, you know, choice is interesting; right?

You can say that, yes philosophically, all parents can do that but then you have to look at the reality of that. Does that parent have the means to actually transport that child to another school, if they even have a working, functional car? Is there a bus system that exists? There are so many areas in which the choice is really a Hobson’s choice; it’s a choice of theory but it really doesn’t exist and so it’s nice to talk about choice in a philosophic sense but we really have to deal with the reality and for most parents, that choice doesn’t exist.

Here is Naeyaert’s observation:

“Following Rep. Lipton’s twisted logic is difficult, especially when she asserts that we can’t tell if students are learning unless we have more detailed financial reporting. In any event, the availability of transportation is sometimes an issue for families planning to exercise school choice via traditional public or charter public schools. But to suggest that school choice doesn’t exist for ‘most’ parents is completely contrary to the data proving the majority of Detroit parents don’t currently choose to send their children to a DPS (Detroit Public Schools) school.

“And rather than continuing to trap students in chronically failing traditional public schools, it is the very existence of choice which provides students and families with options and it serves as a major incentive for traditional schools to improve themselves and become more responsive to student needs," Naeyaert continued. "The House Democrat bill co-sponsored by Rep. Lipton would actually eliminate all charter public schools within the next 10 years. This is a bitter, partisan attack on parental choice and is a dramatic move backwards for students and families in Michigan.”


See also:

Challenging the Rhetoric in the War on Charter Schools

A Democrat's Reasons For Supporting School Choice

From Detroit to the Ivy League: One Students Journey

Michigan Lifts Charter School Cap