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Farmington Schools to Lansing: Back off school bills

School officials are concerned that package of proposals could cut deeply into school funding and increase cyber schools.

State lawmakers are considering bills that would increase the number of charter schools, allow for privately operated cyber schools, and would take away a significant tax – the corporate personal property tax – that contributes to the state’s School Aid Fund and to the revenue sharing fund for local governments.

One thing is clear: The legislative landscape isn’t going to make school funding any easier, State Representative Vicki Barnett, (D-37th District), told the Board of Education Tuesday.

In response to the news, the board voted unanimously to approve a resolution that sends a message to Lansing: They want their elected officials to preserve the School Aid Fund. They urged state lawmakers to reject Senate Bills 618-623 and Senate Bill 34. If the bills are signed into law, Farmington Public Schools could lose some $2 million in funding, due to the elimination of $1.2 billion in personal property tax for businesses.   

“That’s on top of the large tax cuts to corporations” that take effect in January, which slashed $1.6 billion in corporate taxes collected from 86,000 businesses in Michigan, Barnett said. “That will increase the burden on citizens and homeowners.”

In addition to the tax cuts, public schools would lose students to charter schools and cyber schools, as the bills would allow for expansion of both, Barnett said. And some of the bills would allow for the privatization of teaching.

Cyber schools can sometimes be a good idea, Barnett said.

“That is very good when you’re dealing with (students who speak a) foreign language,” Barnett said. “Or kids who have very unusual schedules.” But there are problems, she said. For starters, there are no restrictions on who can teach and what is taught, she said. And there is no obligation for those cyber schools to provide infrastructure, such as a computer and a broadband internet connection.

Further, she added, there is “no guarantee that the child who is taking the exam is really taking the exam.”

Board member Frank Reid noted that cyber schools often don’t do all they promise.

He said that recently there was a “significant scandal” in Colorado’s cyber schools.

“Almost all the kids who were in the cyber school program had to get out,” he said. When they went back to their former schools they found they had fallen behind academically, he added, “and the cyber school companies walked away with all the money.”

Barnett is also concerned about the proposal to move board of education elections to universally be held in November during even years, the same as presidential and gubernatorial elections.

“I’m not a fan” of that proposal, she said. “You’d be taking nonpartisan elections and moving them to an expensive partisan election.”

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