Michigan Removes Cap on Charters

Legislation that removes the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in Michigan was signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder this week, writes Dawson Bell at the Detroit Free Press.

This legislation marks the end — for now — of a debate that has raged since the independent public schools were established in 1994.

Last week the Michigan House approved legislation that would see a removal of the cap on the number of charter schools in the state. The bill was designed to open the door to a wave of new charters in the next year.

The measure was approved narrowly on a 58-49 vote. The members of the House voted almost entirely along party lines. Republicans on the whole backed the plan while the Democrats failed in their opposition.

Snyder is on record to have said that under the changes students and parents have been given "good choices," and the result of the legislation is "a program of quality."

Alongside lifting the cap on the number of charters in the state, proponents of the legislation said that more accountability will be required from the schools.

There are currently more than 200 charters in the state, serving roughly 7.5% of public school students.

State Rep. Deb Shaughnessy said the rationale for expanding charters is "providing students with more educational opportunity."

However, Shaughnessy denied that the passing of the legislature should be seen as an attack on traditional public schools.

"This is not about preferring one system over another," she said.

"One size does not fit all."

Democrats described the legislation as a "doubling down on a failed experiment."

Expanding charters will inevitably lead to a decline in enrollment at traditional public schools, said Rep. Douglas Geiss, who also criticized the state's current charters for what he said is overall poor performance.

A common criticism of the bill has been the potential for it to mean the demise of traditional public schools and result in schools where teachers are inadequately compensated.

However Snyder rejected that notion, arguing that charters provide a quality alternative for students and parents who don't believe that their needs are being met in traditional schools.

Dozens of amendments to the bill were offered by Democrats.

Additional requirements on new charters, barring for-profit companies from opening charters or limiting the geographic areas in which they could locate were thought to have been sought after.

Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, called the vote a "historic night for the parents of Michigan."

Michigan charters have consistently outperformed the traditional school districts in which they are located, he said.

A 2009 analysis, however, showed that charter schools in Michigan, in fact, perform on average at about the same levels as the school districts where they are located. In some cases, the charters were actually shown to have been proved to be performing worse.

After signing the bill, the governor outlined his goal to provide successful schools of every variety, leading to high graduation rates and post-secondary education and career readiness.

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