Senate ‘ed reform’ bills defy voter wishes, expert testimony

MEA opposes current versions of SB 618-624

EAST LANSING, Mich., Sept. 28, 2011 — Outsourcing teachers.  Creating unlimited charter and cyber schools.  Mandating that schools participate in schools of choice.  Providing back-door vouchers to private- and home-schooled students.

All these are reasons why the Michigan Education Association opposes Senate Bills 618-624, the package of so-called “education reform” bills currently under consideration in the Senate Education Committee. 

But MEA isn’t alone in that opinion – both public opinion research and expert testimony support the same conclusion.  MEA President Steven Cook questions why some lawmakers are continuing to push these ideas regardless of the mounting opposition.

“Voters and experts are telling the Republican-led Legislature to stop this so-called ‘education reform’ because of its devastating impact on our neighborhood schools,” Cook said. “On top of the $1 billion cut from public education earlier this year to pay for a $1.8 billion business tax break, lawmakers are now looking at more ways to siphon funding away from schools that are such a critical part of our communities.

“When are legislators going to start listening and stop granting the wishes of corporate CEOs intent on making profits at the expense of students, taxpayers and schools? These ideas won’t help students. It’s just padding the bottom line of for-profit companies.”

In their current form, SBs 618-624 eliminate the cap on both charter and cyber schools, allow neighborhood schools to be converted to charter schools, remove the ban on privatization of instructional positions, and expand dual enrollment and virtual education programs to cover private- and home-schooled students at taxpayer expense.

“These bills are a direct attack on the very concept of neighborhood schools,” Cook said. “Instead of using taxpayer dollars to improve public schools through research tested methods, some lawmakers want to take those funds and pay private companies to educate our children. Those companies are out to make a profit and aren’t held to the same accountability and transparency standards that our neighborhood schools are.”

A recent poll by EPIC-MRA bears out Cook’s remarks. The survey of 800 Michigan voters found that 68 percent oppose outsourcing teachers to private companies.  And while 59 percent supported charter schools overall, 52 percent thought removing the cap on charter schools would have a negative effect on the quality of education.

Expert testimony before the Senate Education Committee led to the same conclusion. Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University education professor and national expert on charter schools, told the panel that charter schools are moving away from their original goals of innovation and local control, and are turning into nothing more than “corporate or franchise schools.”

Contact: Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs, 517-337-5566