administrators are bracing for the passage of a package of bills that strip away local control from public schools, allow for more charter schools, and erase school district borders.
At the same time, the state Board of Education is raising standards for student proficiency on standardized tests.
School board member Karen Bolsen said at Tuesday's board meeting that she’s frustrated by the state’s lack of support for public schools.
Seven bills up for consideration by the Legislature – Senate bills 618-624 – aim to increase the number of charter schools, allow for the privatization of public school teacher positions, and require public school districts to take students from any other district in the state. Lawmakers have also fast-tracked a House bill that would prohibit the deduction of union dues from teacher paychecks.
“It’s unfortunate that they’re looking at increasing the charters,” Bolsen said, adding that charter schools do not have to operate under the same constraints as other public schools.
While she said that charters “can be successful in some areas,” like in some urban areas or areas with underperforming schools, Bolsen added that she worries about pulling more resources away from public schools.
“Instead of supporting public education which has been the strength of our nation,” Bolsen said. “They’re looking at dismantling it.”
Senate Bill 624 would require schools to accept applications from students in any other Michigan district.
While Michele Harmala, assistant superintendent for student support services, said that the bill is “almost a moot point because capacity is defined by the local school district,” the district opposes such mandates.
“Farmington Public Schools has had schools of choice for years,” she said. The district usually accepts a small number of students from outside the district, in lower grade levels. “We’re opposed to making it mandatory. There is a mechanism in which schools can participate. “
Further, if the legislation passes, legal battles are expected between the state and school districts, over how capacity is defined.
“You can’t compare space and capacity,” Harmala said. “Those are separate issues. A school may have physical space. But if you don’t have the teachers and materials for additional students, you don’t have capacity.”
Other local issues determine capacity. For example, in Farmington, class sizes are, in part, contractual issues, said David Ruhland, assistant superintendent.
In the Farmington Education Association contracts, kindergarten, first and second grade classes are to be 26 students or less, and in third through fifth grade it’s 27 students per classroom, unless the district negotiates a higher level of compensation with a teacher, Ruhland said.
Harmala is concerned over the trend in Lansing that is stripping local control from elected boards of education.
“Local control has been eroded and continues to be eroded,” she said.
Officials are also concerned over Tuesday's Michigan Board of Education vote to raise the bar for "passing" Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) exams.
Under the old standard, students are considered proficient in seventh grade social studies MEAP, for example, if they answered 52 percent of the questions correctly. The new standard requires 70 percent correct to be proficient. Likewise, the old requirement for 11th grade social studies was 39; the new standard is 63.
Catherine Cost, assistant superintendent, said the district is coming up with a plan to help students meet the new requirements.
“What I worry about is the students on an IEP (individualized education plan) or the ELL (English language learner) students,” she said. “Those students struggle now to meet the requirements, and I don’t know how the state is going to treat them.”