Inside and outside of Oakland

Governors education reforms draw mixed reviews

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder struck a nerve with educators and lawmakers with his special message Wednesday to state lawmakers on education reform.

  The Republican governor’s message is one he promised to deliver in his first State of the State address in February on several issues.
  He delivered his message Wednesday morning from the offices of United Way for Southeastern Michigan in Detroit.
  His proposals include:

  • An “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace” learning model in which funding follows a student rather than being exclusively tied to a school district. The governor proposed giving school districts more control over seat time regulations, length of the school year, length of the school day and week, and more flexibility when it comes to instruction and traditional configurations of classrooms.
  • Universal schools of choice in which schools can no longer refuse out-of-district students, and lifting the cap on the number of charter schools in a district with at least one failing school.
  •  Implementing an education dashboard in which districts that show student improvement in subject areas receive a bonus in state funding.
  •  Establishing the Michigan Office of The Great Start—Early Childhood to combat bullying.
  •  Higher standards for teacher certification.
  As with many of the governor’s proposals since he took office in January, his plans for education reform produced widely varying reactions.
  Republican lawmakers who control the House and Senate were generally supportive.
  “I’m pleased the governor realizes our educational system needs to shift its focus to make sure all kids have access to quality education,” said Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, whose district includes Milford.   “For too long, the focus has been on funding instead of fixing the problems that are harmful to our children and their futures.”
Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said public schools have always embraced reform.
“The governor’s vision is bold,” he said. “We applaud him for that and believe it is past time for adults to work together to better serve children.”
  Snyder’s education reform proposals follow his tax and spending proposals, which have proposed per pupil cuts to public education and put the governor at odds with unions and educators.
  Senate Democrat leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, and state Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, announced Tuesday that they had both introduced legislation to clarify Michigan’s Constitution to guarantee that money from the state’s School Aid Fund goes to K-12 schools.
  “Residents across my district have contacted me expressing overwhelming opposition to the governor’s proposed cuts to education,” Brown said. “A constitutional amendment will ensure elected officials can’t raid money designated for our schools and balance the budget on the backs of our children.”
  Locally, the proposal for universal schools of choice raise financial issues for districts that participate and for those that don’t.
  “The reason we are not currently participating is that under the current rules this doesn’t make sense financially since we can’t collect the full (per pupil) allowance,” said Birmingham Schools spokeswoman Marcia Wilkinson, referring to the fact that districts such as Birmingham spend significantly more per child than many other districts.
  “If this changes, it is something we would want to revisit,” she said.
  Birmingham does accept tuition-paying students from other districts. At this time, most districts aren’t willing to release their foundation amount for the student leaving their home district to become a Birmingham student. So parents pay the entire tuition.
  Many Oakland County districts already open their schools to a limited number of students from other county districts, usually in specific grades.
Novi School District is one of several in Oakland County that does not take part in schools of choice.
  “Initially, I was for it,” said Novi Superintendent Peter Dion. But there are a lot of ramifications. We are a very good district. If kids from other districts come here, it will reduce (the other district’s revenue). 
  “I think all kids should have what we have,” said Dion, who advocates more equity in funding among all districts. It isn’t fair because districts such as Novi have so much more, he said.
  “How do you create great programs when your kids are going somewhere else?” he said. “It will create dissension between districts.”
Pontiac Education Association President Lance Davis said the moving of children from one district to another also hurts the sense of community for both districts.
  Sometimes parents in the receiving district are resentful of the students who come in and get choice spots on sports teams or other activities or awards when they aren’t paying the same property taxes, he said.
  Bloomfield Hills Schools spokeswoman Betsy Erickson said the board voted in 1999 against being a school of choice district as long as the law was written the way it is — that students bring only the per pupil funding from their home district.
  Otherwise, a student could come to Bloomfield Schools with funding of $8,000 when the district is spending $12,000 for students who live in the district. 
  “We have concerns about our responsibility to our taxpayer shareholders,” Erickson said. “What does it mean to take on students from failing districts who need a lot of support? What is the governor’s plan to provide these supports? If students are not ready for instruction the way you are delivering it, it could be big problem.”
  Erickson said the governor’s proposal is so new that there are more questions than answers.
  “To our knowledge, there is no example of a free market approach to education like this anywhere in the world,” she said. “We certainly need to take a closer look at it.
  “We are open to new ideas and innovations but it needs to be very thoughtful and we hope legislators will include us in the conversation.”

Contact Charles Crumm at 248-745-4649 or email charlie.crumm@oakpress.com. Contact Diana Dillaber Murray at 248-745-4638 or email diana.dillaber@oakpress.com.

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