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Sorting out Michigan's proposed education overhaul

James F Clay

In recent days there has been much made of a proposed overhaul to Michigan’s education system.

The overhaul consists of three parts:

  • two bills currently working their way through the state House and Senate,
  • and one draft of a bill that has yet to be introduced.

The bills are part of a package devised in part by Governor Rick Snyder’s education advisor Richard McLellan in an attempt to achieve the Governor’s goal of providing an “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace” learning model.
The model was laid out in a 2011 address by the Governor on updating the state's education system.

Here is what all of the commotion is about.

Making room for new kinds of schools in Michigan

House Bill 5923 was introduced by Republican Lisa Lyons in September, and is currently before the House Committee on Education.

It would allow for the creation of new kinds of schools, including online schools and those run by corporations.

In his 2011 address on changing Michigan's education system, Governor Snyder said

"By introducing an education system that offers unfettered flexibility and adaptability for student learning models and styles, we will break down the status quo on how, when, and where students learn."

But others fear this new model will lead to a loss of control on how kids are educated.


John Austin, president of the state Board of Education, wrote on MLive that the bill could lead to a "'Wild West' of unfettered, unregulated new school creation, decoupled from the goal of improving learning and student outcomes."

One big district for 'lowest performing' schools

House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358, introduced by Lyons and Senate Republican Phillip Pavlov, would cement the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) into state law.

The EAA was instituted last year to operate the lowest performing five percent of schools in the state as a reform school district.

It began this school year with 15 Detroit schools, and is slated to expand statewide.  It is currently operating under an interlocal agreement between Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University.

Opponents say the legislation provides sweeping authority to the EAA that exceeds the district’s original mission.

From the MEA:

The legislation would expand the EAA's current reach from Detroit to the entire state, allowing Lansing bureaucrats to assume many of [the] responsibilities currently entrusted to local school board members, parents and educators. This statewide takeover district would oversee schools deemed by arbitrary and flawed ratings to be in the bottom 5 percent. Creating a cold, impersonal statewide school district would eliminate time-honored "neighborhood schools," further eroding the public school system.

How changes to the education system would be paid for

The final component of the overhaul is the Michigan Public Education Finance Project, an enormous 300-page draft of a bill that would change how the state's education system is funded.

It would replace the School Aid Act of 1979.

The bill, commissioned by Governor Rick Snyder, was written by Richard McLellan and Peter Ruddell of the Oxford Foundation.


It furthers the plan laid out in the Governor's education address:

"Michigan’s state foundation allowance should not be exclusively tied to the school district a child attends. Instead, funding needs to follow the student. This will help facilitate dual enrollment, blended learning, on-line education and early college attendance. Education opportunities should be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

Opponents say a corporate model for education will not work for Michigan.

As John Austin wrote on MLive, the Governor's goal of "free market" education will inevitably leave some behind:

A marketplace doesn’t exist unless customers have the ability to choose the product. Lots of students would be left behind who could not “shop” successfully. And how would students and parents buy the other important pieces of their education: the teacher-mentor, the football team, orchestra, and band, the school newspaper? This marketplace for education looks a lot like a voucher program where individuals get the money and shop for what they want in education. This was rejected by Michigan voters before—in part because of its perceived destructive impact on local school systems around the state.

The Oxford Foundation is currently accepting comments on the draft, and MLive reports that some parts of the plan could be included in the Governor’s next state budget plan, expected to be proposed in February.

- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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