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Parents question lawmakers on cyber and charter schools, funding changes

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Five state lawmakers took tough questions from parents in East Grand Rapids Wednesday night. The legislative committee of the schools' PTA hosted the lawmakers; four republicans and one democrat. Hot issues included a proposed bill on cyber schools and the governor’s proposed k-12 budget for next school year.

Cyber charter schools

Last year Michigan lifted the cap on how many charter schools public universities can run. Now, there’s a bill proposed that would allow more cyber charter schoolsto operate.

Many parents asked the lawmakers why cyber schools get the same amount of state money per child as brick and morter ones. State Representative Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) said cyber schools shouldn’t get as much, saying the savings should be passed on to the taxpayers. Cyber charters can be run by national for-profit companies.

Tina Murua has two kids enrolled in East Grand Rapids schools. “I fear that they’ve couched the whole thing in terms of parental choice because…who can argue with that? It’s a brilliant strategy but it was a false choice,” Murua said. She worries companies are pushing states to allow more cyber schools just to make money.  

The state senate already approved the cyber charter school bill. It passed the State House Education Committee in late February.

Retirement costs

East Grand Rapids school board president Brian Ellis said retirement costs eat up 27-percent of the money the state sends the district.

State Senator Mark Jansen (R-Gaines Township) told the group he’s trying to contain rising retirement costs. Jansen says he’s part of a special committee of lawmakers that’s been working for months on a plan to restructure theretirement system for public school workers.

 “I would expect they’ll (current employees) be able to keep what they have accrued – up until the day we change it. But after that point we’re going to ask changes to happen because we can’t afford it anymore,” Jansen said.

Jansen says without action, retirees can eventually expect to get only 50-cents on the dollar. He called that situation “immoral”. He said the state would likely pitch in to cover the some of the uncovered liability with money from the general fund.

Jansen says the committee’s goal is to have the retirement system changes adopted with the state budget in June.

Parents also raised concerns over other aspects of Governor Snyder's proposed budget, including changes to the way kindergarten is structured and cuts to categorical funds that target districts with higher needs.  

State Representative Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto) said she has concerns about the proposed changes to kindergarten. She was appointed to chair the House Education Committee effective Thursday.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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