Critics Pan New Michigan Education Reform Proposal

The plan to overhaul Michigan schools proposed by the Michigan Public Education Finance Project has been public for only a few days, yet it is already drawing sharp criticism from many educators and parent groups. The proposal, drawn up at the request of Governor Rick Snyder, radically overhauls many areas of how the education system in the state is funded, including doing away with local district “ownership” of students and their allocated funding. The proposal would allow students to take classes offered outside their local district and see schools share per-student funding on the basis of how many classes each student takes at each institution.

Those who support these proposals say that it will give students and their families much needed flexibility, especially when it comes to seeking out programs and classes not offered in their local schools. But critics assert that assigning funding to the student and not the district will work to drain away money from schools that cater to the most low-income and struggling student populations — and therefore those that are in most dire fiscal need. At least one lawmaker says that the plan will work to dismantle the state’s public education system by using tax money to fund for-profit education ventures rather than for improving student achievement.

“It’s clearly the most fundamental dismantling of our public education that we’ve seen to date,” said Bob McCann, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing.

“It takes taxpayer dollars and hands it over to for-profit corporations to run our schools.”

One of the mainstays that the proposal seeks to eliminate is the annual Count Day. Held on the first Wednesday of October, it is the attendance data collected on that day – and that day only – that determines the school’s funding level. To replace it, the plan calls for the districts to submit enrollment data every month and the funding will be adjusted based on that information over the course of the academic year. By doing away with Count Day, it would absolve schools from reporting attendance data to the state going forward.

The plan also calls for expansion of online course offerings throughout the state. By adjusting the funding formula to allow the per-student state money allocation between the student’s home district and any district where he or she takes additional classes, the project hopes to encourage schools to offer more distance learning opportunities.

Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents charter schools, said the governor is creating an environment to make improvements in education and add incentives.

“And why are we doing this? Because not all kids are ready for the 21st-century work environment,” Quisenberry said.
The proposed changes would make funding more equitable, focus on the student rather than the district and begin to lay the groundwork for testing and achievement policies, he added.