What's Going On - "Unbundling" or "Vouchers to Vendors" snuck into the budget
The Legislature has revived one of the most radical and controversial measures of its failed agenda from 2012's lame duck session and slipped it into the budget without public discourse. This measure would create a drastic funding problem for Okemos, Haslett, and other area schools.
During the lame duck session of 2012, the Legislature pursued a radical change to the way public schools are funded in Michigan. The Legislature proposed "unbundling" school funding or creating "vouchers to vendors." The idea was that a student in a public school could take an online class, and the school would have to pay for it out of it's per/pupil allowance from the state. On the surface, this sounds fine. But there are two dynamics of school funding which would make this devastating to public schools.
First, comprehensive public school districts are so much more than just the individual classes students take. Comprehensive public school districts provide bussing, libraries, sports, clubs, and more. For-profit online schools that syphon away public funds offer none of these things. Michigan State Professor of K-12 Educational Administration David Arsen recently wrote a detailed "Open Letter" to Gov. Snyder explaining this. In the letter, Professor Arsen examines with comprehensive detail why the math of this proposal won't work. He also notes that Ann Arbor Greenhills, the private school Gov. Snyder's children attended, take the opposite approach:
"Greenhills does not accept credit for online classes, nor offer classes for credit in the summer. It takes a firm position against students taking courses at other institutions, including colleges or universities, unless they have already taken the school’s most advanced course in a subject. . . . The school has a thoughtful rationale for these decisions: it wants students to interact with one another and faculty to establish a durable and supportive community. I try to imagine how the families and educators at Greenhills would react if they were forced to operate under the rules embodied in the Oxford proposal . . ." An Open Letter to Gov. Rick Snyder, from Professor David Arsen.
Second, this piecemeal voucher approach ignores the fact that different children cost very different amounts to educate. The state funds a flat fee for each student to the school districts. An elementary school student who learns quickly is relatively inexpensive to educate. But a high school student taking advanced courses, or a special needs student who gets a great deal of individualized instruction costs much more. For a comprehensive school district the per pupil average funding approach is fine since the district educates all the children within its borders. But allowing funding to be eroded in a piecemeal fashion leaves comprehensive school districts bearing a disproportionate burden while for-profit companies take public money for their profits. This 10 minute podcast by Dr. Vickie L. Markavitch, Superintendent of Oakland Schools explains this in detail and is worth the time to watch.
What We Are Doing
Okemos parent Angie Wilson recently spoke to the parent group and Bennett Woods Elementary and five parents signed up for Informational Updates and Action Items. Welcome! Okemos parent Brett DeGroff will speak with parents at Hiawatha and Cornell tomorrow.
There will be an Action Item on funding and vouchers soon. We are coordinating with parents groups across the state on how best to target our efforts. We know your time is valuable, so we don't take lightly making a request to call, write or email legislators.