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Bill to allow more charter schools in Michigan stalls in Republican-led House

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Michigan’s Republican-led Senate has passed a measure that removes the 150-school cap on university-sponsored charters. The bill is now stalled in the House.

The way the current cap works: If a charter is considered "high performing," it is re-labeled a School of Excellence, and removed from the cap, which leaves a vacancy for a new university-sponsored charter school to fill.

Here's how Central Michigan University's Center for Charter Schools explains it:

On January 4, 2010, Michigan became the first state in the country to enact a “smart cap.” This smart cap allows charter public schools that meet the law’s criteria of “high performing” or “beating the odds” to be eligible for reauthorization as a “School of Excellence” outside the 150-school cap placed on state public universities. Reauthorizing a school as a School of Excellence allows quality charter public schools to be removed from under this cap, creating a vacancy through which a new school can be chartered. Through this smart cap, growth will occur in Michigan’s charter sector. Because this growth is contingent on quality, it provides a strong performance incentive for Michigan’s charter schools movement.

The new bill, SB 618, would allow an unlimited number of university-sponsored charters to open in Michigan.

John Austin is president of the state Board of Education. He says the way the current bill is written, anyone can open a charter regardless of past performance.

He says "there’s specific language and definitions that can be put in the bill [to make] sure it’s a quality, decent operator, and/or preventing those who have only operated bad schools either here or around the country."

Austin says he’s pro-charter, but not at the expense of quality. He says the bottom line is: "We don’t need more charter schools per se; we need more quality charter schools."

The Republican-led House has until Friday to vote on the measure before lawmakers leave for the holiday break.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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