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Bill to give charter schools cut of regional millages clears Michigan Senate

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Legislation that would let public charter schools share in revenues from regional enhancement millages has passed 23-14 in the state Senate.

These millages are property taxes of up to three mills that voters in an intermediate school district may approve for local school district operations.

Current law restricts that money to traditional public schools. 

Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell) sponsored the bill that would allow public charter schools to also share in the funds.

"It's an equity issue and it's a fairness of property taxpayers that we should support all of our students in the county equally," said Hildenbrand.

"For instance, in Kent County which I represent, we have over 14 thousand students who attend public charter schools. The vast majority of their parents are taxpayers in the county," said Hildenbrand. "And so they're paying this increase in property taxes to support education. But they're not benefiting at all."

Critics say the bill would reduce revenue for already underfunded traditional public schools.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) opposes the bill.

"What it does is encourages a system that is already happening in Michigan where we are taking money out of our traditional public schools," said Hertel.

"We can't continue to underfund and spread out the funding of public schools if we want them to succeed," Hertel said.

"If we want to talk about fairness issues, let's talk about fairness and make them [charter and traditional public schools] equal in many different ways," said Hertel. "The idea that in my district, for example, I have lots of charter grade schools, but no charter high schools. Why? Because it's cheaper to actually teach a kid in kindergarten than to teach them in chemistry in high school." 

Other critics of the bill cite higher retirement and transportation costs for traditional public schools.

Hertel said the bill is also unfair because it would apply retroactively. That means that the 6 intermediate school districts that already have enhancement millages would be required to allocate funds to public charter schools, even though the funds were restricted to traditional public schools at the time of the vote on the millage. 

Those 6 ISDs are Kalamazoo, Kent, Midland, Monroe, Muskegon, and Wayne. 

"The bill takes voter millages that have already been passed and that were specifically designated to go to those public schools and hands that money over to for-profit and not-for profit charters," said Hertel. "And for me, when voters decide that they have a priority, that they believe money should go in a certain direction, the legislature should not be able to come behind them, and steal that money, and use it for what the legislature deems important."

An amendment was offered on the Senate floor that would have clarified that charter schools could not share in revenue from the 6 existing regional enhancement millages.  The amendment was voted down.

Bill sponsor Hildenbrand could not be reached for comment on the retroactivity question.

The bill has been referred to the Education Reform Committee in the House. 

The bill is S.B. 574.