House Ed Chair Not Exploring Charter Reforms

MIRS Newsletter – February 26, 2015
The new House Education Committee chair said today she doesn’t see any legislation coming from her committee this year regarding charter schools outside of establishing a process to weed out low-pMIRS.QOD.FEB2015erforming or troubled authorizers.
Rep. Amanda PRICE (R-Park Twp.) said this morning that adopting an accreditation process potentially similar to what the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers (MCCSA) announced last year as voluntary “will be coming forward” (See “Charter Authorizers Launch Voluntary Accreditation Process,” 8/29/15).Outside of that, Price said she sees no reason to pursue additional legislation more than six months removed from the Detroit Free Press’ exhaustive series on Michigan charter schools, which reignited interest within state government to conduct a top-to-bottom review of these public schools.Price said she didn’t feel the series was a “fair assessment of the possibilities there are through charter schools” and nothing stuck out to her as reforms that need to be made at the legislative level.

The comments came after Price’s House Education Committee held a 90-minute hearing featuring testimony from three pro-charter school groups and a fourth school choice advocacy group.

MCCSA Executive Director Jared BURKHART; Alicia URBAIN, legislative vice president for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA); Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) Executive Director Gary NAEYAERT and StudentsFirst Michigan Director Lindsay HUDDLESTON were all on today’s agenda.

Naeyaert introduced GLEP this way: “We are a non-profit, semi-bipartisan organization.”

The discussion on charter schools comes a week removed from a Education Trust-Midwest report that concluded charter school authorizers are “arguably accountable to no one” and that “not even the state’s governor has the power to close low-performing authorizers” (see “Report: Charter Authorizers ‘Accountable To No One,'” 2/19/15).

Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Steve COOK referenced a separate report three weeks ago in his scathing Detroit News commentary in which he called for a moratorium on new charter schools, among other reforms.

Cook argued for “comprehensive charter school reform legislation, which guarantees accountability and transparency, setting academic performance standards for both authorizers and schools.

“Michigan taxpayers are providing huge profits to companies operating charter schools,” Cook wrote. “We must insist that they are held to high standards and show results in the classroom.”

The types of reforms MAPSA and the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) were calling for today focused on more equity between traditional public schools and charters in both accountability and state funding. Naeyaert noted there’s been a slow movement toward narrowing the gap between school districts with the highest and lowest amounts of per-pupil reimbursement, but at the current rate, equity won’t be met for at least 15 years.

“We’re not saying it needs to be a marathon or a sprint, but we don’t want to see it become the Bataan Death March toward equity,” Naeyaert said.

Despite claims that charter school expansion would grow rapidly once the cap on charter schools was removed, Urbain noted that Detroit, for one, has only seen a net rise of seven new charters in the past five years.

Speaking of Detroit, MIRS asked Naeyaert his group’s position on the future of the economically struggling Detroit Public Schools (DPS). The Skillman Foundation and the Governor’s office are putting together proposals on DPS’ future. One DPS official suggested all of the district’s schools become charters (See “Turn All DPS Schools Into Charters? Idea Was Floated In 2013,” 2/23/15).

“Let nature take it’s course,” he said. “We don’t mind if DPS no longer exists as an educational entity.”

Price On Other Education Issues
Price said also today she still supports legislation pitching the Department of Education’s “color-coded” system of gauging the success of public schools for the traditional A-F grading scale.

She said using orange, lime green and purple to grade a school system may soften the stigma of receiving a poor letter grade, but it’s confusing for parents and the general taxpaying public.

“I understand the reasoning behind it, but education is serious business and we have to get down to a system that is very accountable for our parents and our students,” Price said.

MIRS reported two weeks ago the Department of Education is looking at making the shift on their own, without legislation (see “MDE Open About Shifting To A-F Grading Scale For Schools,” 2/10/15). On mandating all children read at a 3rd-grade level before moving on to the 4th grade, Price said she’s still all for it, but she said she understands there will need to be an assessment stretching into a child’s kindergarten years.

Gov. Rick SNYDER has made getting all children to read proficiently at a 3rd-grade level by the 3rd grade a major piece of his education agenda this session.

On the conflicting teacher evaluation plans from Senate Education Committee Chair Phil PAVLOV and Sen. Margaret O’BRIEN (R-Portage)/Rep. Adam ZEMKE (D-Ypslanti), Price said, “I believe there’s lots of compromise here” (see “Teacher Evaluation Concept Returns Sans State-Approved Models,” 2/18/15).

“I would hope we could have something by May on this so there’s something in place by the summer,” she said. “We spend about 85 percent of our education dollars on teachers and if we are not working to help them improve, we’re not spending our dollars wisely.”