SB 618 on its way to Gov. for signature

SB 618—the bill to lift the cap on charter schools—is on its way to Gov. Snyder for signature and it is no gift for public education or the students of Michigan.  The bill, with changes, passed the House last night on a 58-49 vote, and today with the Senate’s concurrence, the bill heads to the Governor who is expected to sign the bill into law. Since the bill did not win immediate effect, it will be March before any new charters can be established.

Democrats offered dozens of amendments—all of which were rejected by the Republican leadership without a single roll call vote. Nine Republican amendments were adopted but they represent a weak attempt at recommending accountability standards for charters and do not address making sure new charter schools are reputable ones before they are licensed.

On passage of the bills, Rep. Tim Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe) said, “Gov. Engler said that charters would ‘revolutionize’ public education in Michigan. There’s been time for significant scientific review of the evidence—and after 16 years, there is no evidence that charters outperform traditional public schools. We’ve been experimenting with charters for 16 years, and we have nothing to show for it.”

Your contacts with legislators did, however, make a difference because there are significant improvements from when the bill was first introduced in the Senate three months ago. The privatization of teachers was struck from the bill and there now are provisions requiring some greater accountability and transparency for charters. And, with the House changes, there will be a gradual lifting of the cap on charters instead of the original idea to throw open the doors to unlimited charters.

While MEA is still reviewing the bill for a final analysis, in summary, SB 618:

  • Phases in the cap on charter over four years from the current 150 charter schools to 300 by the end of 2012; to 500 in 2014 and then the complete elimination of any cap.
  • Creates a bi-partisan workgroup from both chambers to recommend improvements in educational quality in all public schools with a focus on student growth. Recommendations are to be made by March 30, 2012 to the Senate Education Committee.
  • Requires all schools to post AYP status online.
  • Requires charter school to submit documentation to their authorizers that they are making measurable progress.

Mandates cyber school authorizers to report operation data to the State Superintendent of Instruction after two years.