Wednesday, November 30, 2011

House Educ. Committee votes to lift caps on Charter Schools without requiring many of the same requirements placed upon public schools.

After being on vacation for 2 weeks, today the House Education Committee approved the House version of Senate Bill 0618. This was the bill that was part of the Senate Education Reform Package proposed earlier in the fall (please check earlier blog posts for more information). SB 0618 is the piece of the package of bills that lifts the cap on charter schools that can be authorized by community colleges and state universities. Michigan already has the sixth-highest number of charter schools in the nation. The bill’s critics have also noted that the bill places no controls on quality nor requires many of the mandates enforced on public schools, despite receiving public money.

Democrats offered more than 15 amendments and only one was approved. Those shot down included:

1) requiring charters to provide transportation,

2) requiring operators to show "demonstrated performance" before opening new charters,

3) reducing charter authorizers' profits,

4) putting reporting language back in for cyber schools,

5) requiring any new charter school authorized by a school district to recognize the collective bargaining agreement that

applies to other employees of the chartering district

6) and limiting where charters can locate.

I have “bolded” some of the most detrimental pieces that were EXCLUDED from the bill.

a) Why shouldn’t a charter school have to prove their performance before being allowed to open more charter schools?

b) Why should chartering agencies be allowed to make a profit from public tax monies?

c) Why shouldn’t cyber schools be required to report student achievement just as public schools must

d) If a school district charters a school, the teachers in that school are no longer recognized as union employees and don’t particularly have to receive the same wage as other teachers in that district? Can you imagine how this might be used? Isn’t this just out and out giving the school districts a tool to literally BUST the union? Bust employee rights? Bust and lower employee pay and benefits?

From reports from the MIRS New Agency, the tenor of today’s “hearings” in the House Education Committee were far from being termed civil and once again highlighted the bi-partisanship that dominates our state government to the point of impeding democracy. For example:

1) The House Education Committee has a new chair, who is Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) and his first order of business was replacing a current Republican committee member, Rep. Holly Hughes of Montague, who has not expressed public support for SB 0618.

2)The following is a direct quote from the MIRS report:

It started with Minority Vice Chair Lisa BROWN (D-Bloomfield Twp.) expressing confusion when McMillin decided not to take up amendments in chronological order.

"Last time I checked, the minority party didn't get to set the agenda," McMillin informed her. McMillin later cut off Rep. Rudy HOBBS (D-Lathrup Village) who was expressing concern about the quality of charter schools. McMillin said that public schools have been failing for years.

That was the last straw for Rep. Doug Geiss (D – Taylor), who blasted McMillin for opining on every amendment and not letting Democrats speak. Geiss suggested that he might want to "pass the gavel on."

Hobbs called the hearing a "charade" and said SB 0618 is "taking a cap off of an experiment. This is not serious deliberation in my view," he declared.

Hobbs and McMillin then scrapped over the Democrat's amendment to have charter operators' information on the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), which failed. This time McMillin accused Hobbs of cutting in on him.
"If your members are going to interrupt me, I'm not going to call on them," McMillin told Brown. Lisa Brown said Hobbs was just trying to explain the bill.

Geiss complained about companies in education just for the profit motive. McMillin said those were "outrageous charges."

The Senate education reform package that still needs to be considered by the House includes legislation lifting the cap on cyber schools, increasing public school opportunities for private and homeschooled students, more opportunities for high schoolers to dual enroll in community colleges and a process for failing public schools to convert to charters.

These will also be considered by the House Education Committee and will soon move to the House floor. These bills have already been passed by the Senate last month and are a part of the GOP’s education reform package and legislative top priorities.