Legislation that would make sweeping changes to the way Michigan public schools are funded may be on the move, and public education advocates are working to arm parents with information about them.
Harrison High graduate Debbie Squires, who is associate director for the Michigan Elementary/Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA), spoke to an audience of about 40 at her alma mater Thursday night. The event was sponsored by the Farmington PTA (Parent Teacher Association) Council and Farmington Public Schools, and hosted by Farmington, Livonia, and Walled Lake PTA Councils.
Squires said the legislature may take up three bills during the post-election "lame duck" session:
- SB620 - Called the "parent trigger" bill, it would allow 60 percent of parents, or 50 percent of parents and 60 percent of teachers, to take over a school that is performing in the bottom 5 percent.
- SB1358 - The bill would give the Education Achievement Authority, which oversees Detroit's lowest performing schools and will expand state-wide, sweeping authority to authorize charter schools.
- HB5923 - Squires said this bill would essentially "remove the cap" on cyberschools. It allows creation of special designation schools that can limit admissions and adopt alternative forms of public governance.
The parent trigger bill, Squires said, raises a number of issues, but the biggest has to do with seizure of property, namely school buildings and grounds. The bill doesn't require parents or teachers to be residents of the district.
"Taxpayers who built the school would have no voice," she said.
Expansion of charter and cyberschools will pull money away from public education. Squires called HB5923 "a scary bill. It defunds the public school system."
Squires also reviewed Gov. Rick Snyder's budget recommendations for 2013-2014, which she said include changing the school aid fund to the "comprehensive education fund", mandating school of choice, tying funds to the student rather than the school district, and basing funding on proficiency, rather than "seat time requirements".
Oxford Foundation revising state law
More troubling, Squires said, is Snyder's charging the non-profit, non-public Oxford Foundation of Michigan, founded in 1991 by former governor John Engler, with rewriting the state's education funding law. The group, which is not required to hold open meetings, will not consider special education, infrastructure, private schooling or preschool, according to the organization's website.
"They way this is drafted, it's never going to go to a vote of the people," Squires said, "and that's where you come in."
She encouraged parents to become informed about the proposed changes and talk to their legislators. She related an instance in which a strong push from parents directly influenced a lawmaker's vote.
"You have the power to influence the process," Squires said. "We're here to help you, but it's up to you to make a difference."
Michigan PTA president Shaton Berry, who attended the forum, said it's important for parents and community members to understand what's happening in Lansing, and "how it affects them in their homes".
"Educating people is the most important thing we can do, because once you're aware, then you can do something," she said.
Berry said the state organization will meet soon to talk about mirroring the Thursday night presentation in other parts of the state. While the state organization can advocate, she said, the real power is in people contacting their own legislators.
"We do realize that one parent is a stronger voice," she said.
A copy of Squires' Powerpoint presentation is posted on the Farmington PTA Council website, and her presentation was videotaped and will be available for viewing on Bright House cable channel 10 or online at http://tv-10.pegcentral.com