Friday, June 28, 2013

What are "charter schools?"

Folks who are concerned about public education, but are new to discussions about public school finance and education policy might be unfamiliar with terms like "Proposal A," and may not really know how "charter schools" are different from conventional public schools.  We previously explained some background on "Proposal A," What is "Proposal A," and how does it effect my school?, Okemos Parents for Schools, June 10, 2013, and this post explains the history of charter schools in Michigan, how they differ from what was proposed when they were first authorized, and the reality of what charter schools are like in Michigan today.

The original idea of charter schools is much different than what they have become.

One of the first prominent advocates for charter schools was the President of one of the country's biggest teachers unions.  AFT President Albert Shanker was on the forefront of advocating for charter schools in 1988. Shanker proposed that districts work with teachers to form schools which could serve as laboratories.  The successful methods developed in the charters could be propagated throughout the public school system.  These schools could also offer more flexibility to educate the students with the greatest needs.  How to fix the charter school movement (and what Albert Shanker really said), The Answer Sheet, July 16, 2012.

The original idea of charter schools was not to replace public schools or compete with public schools.  The original idea was to have a limited tool for public schools to improve themselves.  By and large, the teaching profession has remained committed to charter schools which adhere to this original vision.  It's a myth that opposition to charter schools is just union-backed political resistance.  The AFT still supports quality charter schools.  However, charter schools have expanded rapidly beyond being a tool to improve public education.

Conventional public schools in Michigan are operated by a school district which has an openly elected school board and is accountable to the citizens within its borders.  Conventional public schools can raise money for some pursuits through local property taxes.  But, because of Proposal A, must rely on state funding for operating expenses.  Conventional public schools are responsible for all the students within their borders who choose to attend them.

Charter schools are different.  Rather than being accountable to locally elected officials, each charter is organized through an "authorizer," and an "operator."  Non-profit and for-profit entities can open and "operate" a charter school so long as they enter into an agreement with an "authorizing body." 

While charter schools must have a governing board in Michigan, the board is appointed by the "authorizer," and is totally unaccountable to the local community.  In a charter school, the community is completely removed the school.  Even parents and students who attend the charter school have no ability to impact the school through the democratic process like they would a public school district.  If they don't like what's going on at the charter, their only option is to leave and hope another school offers what they want. They have no ownership because, unlike a public school, a charter is not their school.  Parents and students have no role as citizens in the school.  Instead, they are reduced to mere customers.

An authorizing body can be:
  • A community college
  • A public university
  • An intermediate school district
  • A K-12 school district, or
  • Two or more of the above entities exercising power jointly under an interlocal agreement. [MCL 380.501]
In practice, three institutions authorize the majority of charter schools in Michigan.  As of August 31, 2012, there were 277 charter schools operating in Michigan.  The biggest "authorizer" was Central Michigan University which authorized 59 charter schools. The second-biggest authorizer was Bay Mills Community College with 43.  Grand Valley State authorized 42.  Michigan Public School Academies by Authorizer.

Some have the impression that because a public institution like a public university "authorizes" a charter school, this respected public institution has some role in day-to-day operations of the charter school.  This is not true.  Once an authorizer has signed a contract with a charter school, little more is required.  An authorizer is "responsible for overseeing compliance by the board of directors with the contract and all applicable law."  MCL 380.502(4).  But that's it.  So long as the charter school's board of directors isn't breaking any laws, the authorizer's role is fulfilled.

The authorizer has no duty to make sure the school is safe, to ensure quality of instruction, or to ensure teachers are licensed.  There is definitely no requirement that authorizers ensure charter schools embark on a mission of exploring new methods.  There is no requirement that charter schools propagate innovative methods to public schools.  Authorizers have no real role other than to rubber stamp authorizing contracts.  Once that is done, the actual running of the school is left to the "operator," which in Michigan is most often just a for-profit corporation.

So what role do authorizers really fill in the process?

In Michigan, using public money to fund private schools through vouchers is illegal under the state Constitution.  Mich. Const. Art VIII, Section 2.  It is patently illegal for a for-profit corporation to unilaterally open a school in Michigan and receive public money meant for public education.  But, so long as an authorizer, such as the Upper Peninsula's Bay Mills Community College, has a contract with the for-profit corporation, the public money it receives isn't considered a voucher, and Michigan law is satisfied.

Today, the reality of the what charter schools have become is completely different than what was promised to Michigan voters in the early 1990s. First, charters have not seriously been limited in number.  The number of charters skyrocketed in the 1990s, and steadily climbed through the last decade.

The number of charters is Michigan is set to enter another period of unprecedented growth.  In 2011, although Michigan already had one of the highest number of charter schools in the country, our Legislature and Governor uncapped the number of charters going forward.  This year Michigan had 276 charter schools.  In the fall, 32 more will open including a cyber charter right here in Okemos.  Cyber charter set to open in Okemos, Okemos Parents for Schools, May 26, 2013. The cyber charter opening up in Okemos will be "authorized" by Central Michigan University. 

The radical expansion of charter schools was met with alarm from non-partisan education advocacy group Education Trust Mid-West.  The concern from Education Trust Mid-West was based, not in knee-jerk opposition to the concept of charter schools, but because low quality operators would be allowed to open even more charter schools:
Amber Arellano, the group's executive director, said in the statement that while the group supports high-quality charter schools, the group is concerned by some of the operators in charge of the schools. "Too many of the new charter schools opening are run by operators who are failing to do right by our parents and students," Arellano said.
Among the schools opening in the fall is an additional elementary campus of Detroit's Cesar Chavez Academy, which operator The Leona Group says will bring the school's total enrollment to more than 2,500 students in grades K-12.
The Education Trust-Midwest criticizes the move in their analysis, citing reading test scores at the school which trailed Detroit Public Schools on the 2012 MEAP, particularly among Hispanic students. [Education advocacy group slams operators of some new charter schools,, May 24, 2013.]
But maybe all of this would be fine if charter schools delivered better results.  While there are some high-performing charter schools, on average they perform worse than public schools. Education Trust Mid-West summed up how Michigan has outsourced education to charter schools with dire results:
"While leading states were developing a more comprehensive approach to education, Michigan’s primary strategy has been to expand choice by allowing charter and virtual schools to proliferate, regardless of quality,” the report states. “Charter and virtual schools have experienced explosive growth, but they haven’t come close to matching their promise.” 
The report found 73 percent of charter schools performed below the average Michigan public school in 2012 and that they are disproportionately among the lowest-performing schools. [Michigan Isn't Properly Monitoring Schools, Education Group Says, Bridge Magazine, April 18, 2013.]
It makes sense that charter schools lag behind public schools in performance since they spend less per pupil on instruction.  Because charter schools tend to be smaller than comprehensive public school districts, they cannot leverage economies of scale and tend to spend more on administration.  Analysis of Michigan Charter School Revenues and Expenses,, December 22, 2011.  Also, while a public school spends all its revenue on instruction and administration, for-profit charters by definition take some of the public money meant for education and take it for profits.  Like all profit-seeking entities, they take as much profit as possible.  Of course, this means that public money does not go toward educating children. 80 percent of Michigan charters are for-profit. 

The anecdotal evidence on Michigan charter schools isn't any better.  In Muskegon Heights an entire district was privatized, turning it over to a charter company with results which have been troubling at best.  Teachers fled the privatized district in droves at the start of the school year. 1 in 4 teachers at Muskegon Heights school quit during the first 3 months of school year, NPR, December 3, 2012.  That led to the district hiring uncertified teachers.  The district didn't seek any kind of waiver of the state's requirement for teacher certification.  Rather, the district just employed uncertified teachers until the abuse was uncovered by investigative reporting.  Investigation uncovers non-certified teachers at Muskegon Heights new charter school, NPR, February 12, 2013

In Highland Park, charter school operate Leona Group is operating the schools.  Highland Park Schools, Wikipedia.  There, performance has been so bad under charter management, children have sued the state for failing to teach them to read.  The state has taken the fantastic position that, because the schools are under emergency management, the state is not accountable for delivering on the promise of public education, and is no one is accountable for these children learning to read.  The Right to Read, ACLU.

While charter schools were meant to be a tool for public schools to innovate, they have instead become a parallel system taking public funds for private profits and delivering shoddy instruction.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Q and A: Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud Jr.

We are very proud to bring you a discussion with Michigan's 2013-14 Teacher of the Year Gary Abud Jr. Mr. Abud is a science teacher at Grosse Pointe North High School.  He won the award in part because he uses a broad variety of digital learning and social media to provide his students varied experiences in the class room.

Mr. Abud was selected for the honor in May.  Grosse Pointe North High School teacher named Michigan Teacher of the Year, WXYZ, May 23, 2013.  However, Mr. Abud was quickly embroiled in an unwelcome controversy.  The Mackinac Center filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn Mr. Abud's salary.  The Mackinac Center then used Mr. Abud's story and likeness to argue for HB 4625, a bill that will prohibit schools from considering years of service or continuing education as factors in pay.  Advocacy group StudentsFirst picked up  the story and sent an email which many read to mean Mr. Abud supported the bill.  Teacher of the Year used by StudentsFirst & Mackinac Center to promote teacher pay bill he doesn’t support, eclectablog, June 14, 2013.  Mr. Abud is a strong advocate of comprehensive public school.  We wanted to give him a chance to address HB 4625 and also other aspects of education legislation we have discussed.  This interview and Mr. Abud's likeness are used with his permission. 

Q: Some of our readers might have received emails implying you support HB 4625, a bill which changes teacher compensation rules to make it illegal for school districts to consider length of service as a criteria for teacher pay. What is your position on HB 4625?

A: The emails that some people received did imply I support HB 4625. It’s unfortunate that groups would try to use my photo and my story that way. I currently stand with the State Board of Education in opposing this bill as written. I don’t support any one size fits all model of teacher evaluation. There are many aspects which should factor into teacher evaluation including experience, continuing education, implementation of research-based best practices, contributions to the school and the field of education, as well as student growth. All of these should be elements of a multifaceted approach to evaluation and compensation. One of the words that stands out in the language of the bill is "fair" in reference to evaluation of teachers. Fair is not synonymous with 'equal' and should not be used interchangeably. To create a fair model of evaluation and compensation, local control at the district or school level, as well as teacher voice, must be part of the process; otherwise, establishing a one-size-fits-all method will not be fair, it will simply be equal.

Q: Do you think the Legislature is the institution which is best suited to set standards for teacher evaluations? If not the Legislature, then who?

A: While I have the upmost respect for the work the Legislature does, and I think it’s a difficult job to do under any circumstances, this is one area where local control at the district level, would be best suited to set standards for teacher evaluation, keeping their specific student populations in mind. The Legislature’s vantage point is much more aerial over the entire state, and to best meet the needs of students in a variety of areas across the state, delegating this responsibility to the local schools will be critical. Allowing for local control would empower districts to determine the standards for their specific needs, which will inevitably be different from rural to urban to suburban schools. It has come across somewhat ambiguous from the state-level as to whether teacher evaluation is intended to be punitive. Rhetoric in support of merit pay and test-score-driven evaluation systems, which focuses on getting rid of so-called 'bad teachers' from schools, communicates to everyone that these proposed systems are not meant to reward but rather to penalize. I can't think of a more discouraging way to sell a public policy. I would encourage those at the decision-making table to consider evaluation models that are informative and provide feedback to help teachers improve when possible and not merely punish poor performance or incentivize the practice of teaching & learning.

Q: What are your thoughts about current legislation which will prohibit state funding of Common Core?

A: The Common Core is merely a set of curricular standards in subject areas such as math and English, which were reviewed and accepted by teachers in the state and adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010. Schools have been converting their curricula and lessons for a few years now over to the Common Core. Also, schools have been anticipating statewide standardized testing aligned with them. The legislature decided that this was not an area that was important, despite much suggestion to the contrary. The legislature even heard compelling words from StudentsFirst's Michelle Rhee and Florida's Jeb Bush encouraging them not to give up on Common Core. So, it’s a big surprise to see funding going away and that they are looking to focus our students on learning something else now. It also leaves the curricula of many math and language arts classrooms in limbo for the upcoming school year. This is certainly something they need to revisit and hopefully it will be resolved for the fall. Hopefully, everything teachers have done in these last few years to align to Common Core won’t just be a loss. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Common Core decision is that on one hand the legislature seems to support standardizing education across the state, yet the Common Core and its associated assessments, which have moved schools toward being more standard in their curricula, is not something that is supported.

Q: The Legislature has also focused on increasing online classes (we have written extensively about the new requirement for districts to pay for online classes for kids in grades 5-12, here, here, and here). What is your opinion of this focus on online classes?

A: This is really an interesting area in education and I’m hoping to learn more about it. I used to teach in Arizona where online courses were prevalent, but only a few institutions were able to run online classes; this limited students in their options with taking online classes and typically meant they were not receiving the instruction from their home district.

My hope with online classes is that we don’t try to replace the experience of being in a classroom and supplant that with online delivery. Nothing that goes on in my classroom can be replaced by the online courses that I've seen. My classroom is very interactive and hands-on. Students are learning by doing; they are designing and conducting experiments; they are presenting to and discussing with each other based on those experiences; they are learning through interaction with each other. That’s not something I think can be replaced by online courses as they currently exist. I think there is a role for online learning, and online courses seem to be seeing some success for remediation and recovering lost course credits. But, the fundamental classroom experience is so much richer than some people think, and I don’t think that is something that can be replaced with an online course. Learning is not simply remembering information, as is commonly thought to be the case, it is an experience that happens with others.

The online courses, which I have seen, are the digital equivalent of sending a student home with a textbook and worksheets. I've had friends who have taken online courses, and I myself have taught online courses at the college level in the past. The way in which they are set up is based on the most simplistic model of education, remembering what you were told or read. I don’t know why anyone would sign their child up for a class where there is no teacher in the classroom, but rather a video and a book are the sources of learning.

One of the things I’m really hoping people start to look at more seriously is the desired outcome they are seeking to accomplish with online classes. At the college level, online classes are used to satisfy requirements and get through programs more conveniently or as quickly as possible. We’re seeing some of that rhetoric being applied to online courses in the K-12 area, and steering them away from an environment with other students. There seems to be an emphasis that we want to get them in and get them out of school as quickly as possible. This leads to school becoming a checklist of to-do tasks and not a robust learning experience. It really doesn’t seem like the best needs of students are being best served if we’re just focusing on getting through schools more quickly.

Q: A lot of the education legislation which has been advanced in the past couple years has started with the premise that schools in Michigan are failing, so they need radical change. Do you accept the premise that Michigan's schools in general are in need of radical change?

A: I do not.

Both of those terms, "failing" and "radical," are really broadly generalizing and misleading; frankly, I do not believe they are even warranted. A couple of schools in the state might be struggling, but I think that teachers in Michigan are doing a great job. In the hundreds of classrooms I’ve seen over the years, teachers and students are doing a great job. I have a hard time accepting the premise that schools in Michigan are failing. There is tremendous success occurring, we are still sending the vast majority of students on to top opportunities after they leave K-12 education. Those successes are often grossly ignored in the so-called "reform" rhetoric.

The other part that is troubling is the need for "radical" change. I really want to question the need for radical change or what that means in the first place. Some of the things we’re seeing in the radical change proposals are trying to do the same old things better, such as online courses and virtual schools. They are really trying to take the old textbook and memorization model of school and make it more efficient. But that old textbook model is not what 2013 education looks like in Michigan. Education doesn’t look like it did the Cold War era and I think people need to realize that. Educators have been making best-practice changes gradually across the state. If we could get into the classroom we would see the great things teachers are doing, we would see that teachers aren’t just doing the same things better, they are doing things differently.

I would invite anyone to come into my classroom and see if they still believe that radical change is necessary, because the changes have already been made; learning has been transformed. If you walked into my classroom you wouldn’t see the Cold War era model of teaching. I’m not in front of the classroom talking at the students and giving notes. The kids are constructing their learning through experiences. They are doing projects to give learning a context. They are using mobile devices to support their learning. They are collaborating, they are presenting their findings through discussion and learning together. When someone says, radical change, what my classroom looks like to me is already something radically different than when I was in school even 15 or 20 years ago.

Q: In other forums you have pointed out that teaching is a much more technical field today than when many of our state legislators were K-12 students, and many of our state legislators lack the training to understand what goes into teaching today. Assuming that's true, how should Michigan be shaping education policy going forward?

A: The number one thing that can be done now is to include educators from a variety of levels and disciplines across the state; invite educators into the discussion. The State Board of Education does a great job of this already, and I know that they work with the legislature already. I wouldn’t really even call people out and say they don’t have expertise. Maybe they do. But I do think we need to have people who are in the classroom be part of the discussion; otherwise, the disconnect is too great to ensure we are doing what's best for students.

The other thing going forward is that polices need to be more personalized for different areas of the state. Trying to fit all the students and areas of the state into one box isn’t realistic. Policies need to be flexible so that experts, in all the state's geographic areas, have ability to meet the needs of their students while still working with state level stake holders to keep everything within the goals for the whole state.

Q: What are the biggest external challenges facing Michigan teachers today?

A: The number one challenge we face is an image problem. Some of the negative news that has gone around has shaped the public perception of what classrooms look like and who teachers are. I don’t think that it’s reasonable to take a few negative examples and generalize them across the state. The negatives are few and far between anyway.

Another issue is access to quality education across different areas of the state. That is one thing that is trying to be addressed for students with this school dissolution bill; however, we shouldn't just be trying to deal with symptoms of a problem, we should be working on a problem. Not all teachers have access to the quality of professional development programs that have helped me to enhance my practice. If struggling teachers or schools had access to programs to help them develop and improve, we wouldn't be worried about students being in unsuccessful schools or districts that need to be closed. Some of our teachers need better training to provide their students with better instruction. So, the issue of access is something at the student and teacher level that is challenging.

We also have the issue of poverty, and poverty is more of an issue than most people realize. People sometimes think poverty is only a problem in urban areas, but there is poverty going on in the suburbs, and there is poverty going on in the rural areas as well. Poverty really shapes how students see themselves and see their role in society, including school. It can stifle their hope for the future, and make it look like your defeated before you even start with education. Poverty leads to a very strong sense of being closed in and unable to escape. That influences learning and teaching success. If we can get past an image problem, increase access to professional development for educators, and do some things to address the effects of poverty, I think we can address some of the biggest challenges.

Q: With all of the legislative challenges facing K-12 schools in Michigan, is teaching in Michigan a career path you would recommend to your students?

A: I do recommend teaching as a career path to my students. The reason is that you get to influence so many peoples’ lives. Teaching is a profession where you can really have a positive impact and and see that impact in so many lives.

Despite all the challenges, I think educators are doing a great job, and the negative news doesn’t really affect our day-to-day process or the day-to-day reality of teaching. So, I often recommend teaching as a career path to my students.

Q: What is your favorite part of teaching?

A: For me, my favorite part of teaching is the connecting with 180 young people each and every day. You get to know people and their story and play a role in the play that is their life. For me, the reward all revolves around the relationships, connecting with young people and being part of their future.

Q: What is your wishlist for helping Michigan teachers be the best they can be?

A: A little bit of flexibility and space. A lot of people look at education and think it’s a cut-and-dry situation, you either learn the answer or you don’t. Education should not be merely about answers; it should be about knowledge, skills, and process. There is so much more to it than answers, yet so much of the driving forces impacting schools reduce education to selecting a single answer to a question. As educators, we need more flexibility to focus on process and skills more than just answers.

Teachers are great people and we’re there for the best interest of kids. Despite the isolated few negative stories that are out there, we’re there every day for the kids and 99 percent of schools in the state are doing great things that are worth checking out. My wish list includes policies that provide flexibility to schools and classrooms, as well as some space to let educators do what's best for students.

Q: How can people who are reading this help you help Michigan's schools be the best they can be?

A: The number one thing is to find ways to connect with their local schools and get into their local classrooms. Being able to connect with those schools and share that good news that's going on for their students. If the dinner table conversations around the state were about all the good things going on in classrooms, I think that would set the tone that we are putting value on education and how we can be even better.

More than anything, just finding out what’s going on their schools and spreading that good news.

I would also encourage, if you hear a negative story about education in the news, really stop and consider whether that is representative or an isolated incident. I would encourage everyone to think back on their favorite classroom experiences and what made school great for them, and then realize that those same things and personal connections are still going on in schools today for Michigan students.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Column: Wise Up, Rise Up!

By Angela Wilson
Okemos Legislative Committee Chair

Meridian Township Trustee

Wise Up and Rise Up!

That was the mantra at the Save our Public Schools Rally on the Capitol lawn on June 19. Being at the rally re-energized me! I saw that Okemos parents are not alone in our concern to give our kids the quality education they need to be able to tackle whatever comes their way in this fast changing, global economy that is our reality and their future. We are not the only ones fighting for our kids’ and their future.

It made me proud as a parent and public education advocate to hear students speak to the hundreds of people and policy makers at the rally with confidence and even defiance. Their message, “This is our education and we do not want it corporatized, privatized or underfunded."

Young adults that use technology daily for learning and socializing saying they don’t want a computer replacing their teacher. We heard stories from kids facing abuse, hunger, neglect, and responsibilities that many adults cannot handle and the only thing that gets them through is the creative writing class that gives them support, human contact, love and an outlet to express their fears, hopes, dreams and nightmares in the only safe environment they have—the creative writing classroom. We heard a young man with Tourette Syndrome share his story of how high school band and playing the flute helps him calm his symptoms and gives him the outlet and tools he needs to be successful the rest of his day in school and in his day-to-day life. We heard from a sophomore who is his school’s Student Council President tell us his classmates are now active advocates for education.

What did I take away from the rally? Public Education is the great equalizer. Those from poor and middleclass backgrounds—it is the great equalizer. Public Education allows our children to grow, adapt, find out who they are and the world they belong to. Public education helps kids struggling with abuse and neglect. Public education gives children facing lifelong challenges such as Tourette’s the tools and outlets to be all they can be. Public education is creating our future leaders.

What is most inspiring is that it was our kids sending this message. They are fighting every day for their future and I know I heard them loud and clear. Now we need to support them and fight for their future too. We need to “Wise Up” about the policies that are being proposed and passed in the Michigan legislature and how they are destroying our children’s future. And just as importantly we need to “Rise Up” and continue to spread the word and advocate, advocate, advocate for our kids’ education. We need to make sure that the people, tools and resources they need to learn and grow into productive adults are there now and will be there in the future. We need to join our kids and fight for their future.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hundreds gather at the Capitol to support public schools

Hundreds of parents, teachers, and other Michigan citizens who care about public education came to the Capitol today to protest the chronic underfunding of our public schools and various other radical policies which have been enacted or are being pursued. 

Mark Schauer, who has announced he will seek the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2014, kicked the event off.  He said education in Michigan "must be recognized for what it is – Michigan’s single most important investment we can make to guarantee an economy that works for everyone."

Both of Meridian Township's elected state-level representatives were on hand supporting education.  Representative Sam Singh attended the rally, and Senator Gretchen Whitmer gave an impassioned speech imploring the crowd to chant "kids come first."  Whitmer said "We are the voice of the majority of Michigan . . . We know the majority of Michigan knows our kids come first . . . We have to make sure the people inside this building hear us."  West Michigan's Representative Brandon Dillon and many others also spoke.

Among the most compelling speakers were a pair of high school students - Dustin Hazen from Portland, and Billy Dering from Ann Arbor:

Hazen: "For starters, I do not agree with the privatization of our public schools.  Our Governor says he only privatizes public schools because they are financially stressed or because teachers are failing their students.  That's a good argument, but how can schools function if they are not properly funded?"

Okemos Parents for Schools parent advocates Angie Wilson and Brett DeGroff also attended the rally.

The rally was organized by Save Michigan's Public Schools, a grassroots organization.  Ecletablog has a great photo essay and several video clips.  The event was covered by Michigan's major news outlets:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Grassroots rally to support public schools gathers statewide, nationwide attention

About a month or so ago the folks at Save Michigan's Public Schools posted a question on their Facebook page asking if anyone would go to a rally if they organized one.  A few folks said "yes."  Then dozens.  Then hundreds.  We blogged about the rally, Save Michigan's Public Schools RallyOkemos Parents for Schools, June 3, 2013, then emailed about it recently.

Like Okemos Parents for Schools, Save Michigan's Public Schools is just folks who care about public schools.  They aren't backed by a teachers' union or school districts.  You can hear an interview with Rochelle Noel and Betsy Coffia, two of the folks behind Save Michigan's Public Schools here:
Initially, the political insider news service MIRS was a bit befuddled by the prospect of actual people and not special interests organizing a rally.  They caught wind of the rally and immediately reported it was organized by the MEA.  They then ran a correction that MEA folks were helping organize the rally.  They then ran another correction still saying MEA folks were helping with the rally.  MIRS never actually contacted Save Michigan's Public Schools. Education supporters plan huge grassroots rally at Mich Capitol June 19th, teacher unions & media confused, Eclectablog, June 11, 2013.

The rally has been picked up by national public school advocate Diane Ravitch.  Save Michigan Public Schools Rally on June 19, Diane Ravitch's Blog, June 12, 2013.

You can see the Facebook page for the event below.  As of this post, there are 477 folks going.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What is "Proposal A," and how does it effect my school?

As we bring more folks into the public school finance discussion, we hear the same question over and over: "What is Proposal A?"
Before 1993, Michigan schools were largely funded by local property taxes.  Individual school districts were funded much the same way other local governmental entities are - local voters were able to decide on millages for their schools.  Districts who wanted to invest in their schools were able to put the questions to their citizens.  There were also discrepancies in funding between districts during this period.  Wealthier areas tended to have better funded schools. 

In 1993 the Engler administration pursued and achieved Public Act 145 of 1993 (145 PA 1993) which repealed property taxes as the primary funding source for K-12 education.  145 PA 1993 eliminated approximately $7 billion in school operating funds and did not provide any alternative funding source.
In 1994 voters were given two choices of how to fund schools, but both choices accomplished this through state taxes.  Voters were asked to increase the sales tax rate (Proposal A) or increase the income tax rate if Proposal A failed (Statutory Plan).  Voters chose Proposal A, but either way, there was no longer a choice to fund the operating budget of schools through local choices.  Every district in Michigan would now be dependent on a yearly per pupil allowance (the foundation allowance) from the state, and would be prohibited from raising more money for operating expenses locally.  School Finance Reform in Michigan, Proposal A: Retrospective. This effectively capped what districts could spend on teacher salaries, crayons, toilet paper, and everything else considered an operating expense.

School districts can still pay for some things with millages such as building construction and technology.  But, because of Proposal A, school districts cannot raise more money locally to make up deficits, shrink class sizes, or add programming.  All of this must be paid for by the per pupil allowance which comes from the state. 

Initially, the per pupil allowance from the state to districts, the foundation allowance, kept pace with inflation.  However, since 2002 Michigan has dramatically defunded K-12 education.

This is why the per pupil funding from the state is such a critical issue to every public school in Michigan, and why getting funding for your school is a statewide issue.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Save Michigan's Public Schools Rally

Please consider attending the Save Michigan's Public Schools rally. An impressive list of speakers will be there as well as concerned parents, students, and teachers from around the state.  Several members of Okemos Parents for Schools will be going.  If you're looking for someone to carpool with, email or post in the comments to connect.

Date: Wednesday, June 19
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Location: Capitol Lawn
Confirmed speakers: Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (Senate Minority Leader); Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park); Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids); John Austin (President, State Board of Education); Thomas Pedroni (Associate Professor, Curriculum Studies & Critical Policy Sociology - Wayne State Univ); Betsy Coffia (Save Michigan's Public Schools); K-12 Students Representing School Districts Around Michigan; Master of Ceremonies will be Tony Trupiano (Progressive Talk Radio Show Host/Night Shift with Tony Trupiano)

Save Michigan's Public Schools has created a Facebook "event" for the rally.  More than 160 have already confirmed.
More on Save Michigan's Public Schools, and the event:
Save Michigan’s Public Schools is a non-partisan grassroots network of concerned citizens. Our goal is to connect parents, students, educators and communities across Michigan and raise awareness of threats to public education.
We believe a free, quality public education is the cornerstone of a democratic society. We believe every child in Michigan deserves access to equal and excellent educational opportunities through public education. We believe public education must be locally-controlled, fully-funded, delivered by highly qualified professional teachers, and devoid of corporate involvement.
To this end, we support policymakers and public officials who reject the corporate, profit-motivated takeover of public schools, massive school closures, and meaningless high-stakes testing. We support wise policies and laws that forward sound, research-based, evidence-based solutions to support and improve our existing public school system.