News Story

Effort to Short Circuit School Choice Laid Out

Charter moratorium bills becoming a full legislative package

House Democrats announce new charter school regulations.

House Democrats have announced legislation that completes the charter public school policy they would likely pursue if they gain control of that chamber. Under the House Democrats’ plan, a moratorium on new charter schools would be imposed until the new regulations that they are proposing were enacted.

House Bill 5852, which was introduced in September, would put the charter school moratorium in place. House Bills 5915 through 5918, announced on Oct. 21 — plus the previously introduced House Bill 5696 — would provide the new charter school "transparency and accountability" standards.

With only a few legislative session days remaining in 2014, virtually no one expects the package of bills to get a hearing this year, let alone to move. In addition, there’s little reason to think Gov. Rick Snyder would be supportive of the legislation.

“We can’t comment on the details of a bill that has not yet been introduced,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray told Capitol Confidential. “But, in general, Gov. Snyder doesn’t believe public schools should be treated differently from each other. He’s in favor of raising the standards and increasing accountability for all public schools – traditional and charter – and hopes that is a discussion that can start rather soon.”

Even if there was adequate legislative time for doing so, it is doubtful that the charter moratorium bills would see the light of day as long as the House remains under Republican control. Nonetheless, House Democrats could be expected to introduce the same – or very similar – legislation in 2015, whether or not the upcoming election gives them a majority in the House.

“No matter how they attempt to present it, this legislation represents defenders of the conventional school status quo who do not want competition,” Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, told Capitol Confidential. “The purpose is to deprive students and parents of the opportunity to choose.”

At the press conference announcing the bills that would complete the package, Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, sponsor of House Bill 5915, as well as House Bill 5852 (the moratorium measure) asserted that the issue at hand was charter school transparency and accountability.

“For-profit education management organizations receive public tax dollars from the charter schools they contract to operate,” Rep. Roberts said. “They must be held publicly accountable for how they spend our tax dollars, just like every other public school. For-profit educational management organizations have claimed they don’t need to fully disclose how they spend our money because they are private companies. That is wrong.”

But according to Audrey Spalding, director of education policy with Mackinac Center for Public Policy, it is obvious that the proposed charter school moratorium legislation would restrict educational opportunities and freedom.

“The fact is, hundreds of thousands of parents and students choose charter schools,” Spalding said. “Each year, more and more students opt for charter schools because their conventional school is not serving their needs. If the people pushing this legislation are successful, they will be limiting educational options for students.”

House Democrats failed to get the four new bills they announced formally introduced during the week of Oct. 20-25. With no House sessions scheduled until after the election, their introduction won’t take place until the first full post-election House session.

“I think it’s ironic that the House Democrats held a press conference about transparency, but didn’t make the bills available to those attending the press conference,” Naeyaert said. “Then we find out the bills haven’t even been introduced yet and won’t be available until after the election. Clearly this effort is more about publicity than it is about policy.”

Rep. Roberts told Capitol Confidential that the bills couldn’t be introduced because House Republicans chose not to hold session that week and copies of the bills would have been made available if anyone had asked for them.

“Session was scheduled but the decision was made not to take attendance and actually hold the session,” Rep. Roberts said. “That wasn’t our decision or our fault. Regarding not being able to see the bills, neither Gary Naeyaert nor (Michigan Association of Public School Academies President) Dan Quisenberry called my office and asked for copies. If they had, we would have sent them copies.”

Rep. Roberts arranged to have copies of the bills sent immediately to Capitol Confidential upon request after she was interviewed for this article on Oct. 28.

According to Rep. Roberts, charter schools in Michigan are supposed to be subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as conventional schools, but claims that’s not what always happens in actual practice.

“On our website we show how [conventional] school districts report everything from what they spend on retirement, to art, to supplies, but when we pulled up what a charter school reported it was a single-page document and in one part they’d simply added $480,000 and some change,” Rep. Roberts said. “Why shouldn’t they have to disclose what that was?

“We also believe the authorizers should be required to report how they spend the up to 3 percent, they collect from charter schools,” Rep. Roberts added.

Spalding said claims that charter schools are less transparent that conventional schools are bogus.

“Charter schools are held to the same transparency standards as conventional schools,” Spalding said. “The statement that they are not is false, and has been refuted by several organizations. It is very sad that students face the threat of fewer educational options simply because some want to score political points.”

"For example, South Lake Schools – a school district in Rep. Roberts' own district – posted just a single page for its general fund budget. Rep. Roberts could ask the same question of South Lake. The district spent $540,191 on general administration, and no detail for that particular expenditure is provided on its transparency site."


See also:

Conventional Schools in Anti-Charter Legislator's District Have Little to Brag About

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

State School Rankings Mostly Measuring Race and Income

Flawed State Rankings Mean Some Principals Are Out of a Job

State Education Department Gives a Pass to Failing Districts; Punishes Charters

New Report Card Compares High School Test Scores and Adjusts For Economic Status

New Report Card Measures Elementary and Middle School Performance By Adjusting For Student Family Income

Almost 220,000 Michigan Students Rely On School Choice