A proposal to rewrite the Michigan School Aid Act is drawing backlash from some groups who claim it’s another way to institute a school voucher system in Michigan.
The proposed Michigan Public Education Finance Act, drafted by the Oxford Foundation and available online at www.oxfordfoundationmi.com, would allow students to take online courses, multiple courses, or all their courses from any public school district in the state, the Oxford Foundation says.
Its backers say that the proposal would allow for funding to “truly follow the student,” something that 15 states already utilize, unlike Michigan, where “90 percent of (school districts’) state general education funding (is) based on where a student sits on the first Wednesday in October.”
In addition, the proposal would create an increased focus on online learning, offer an “early graduation scholarship” of $2,500 each semester a student successfully completes high school early, and encourage year-round schooling in the form of a 180-day school year spread out over 12 months instead of nine.
The proposed Michigan Public Education Finance Act, which comes as the result of a request by Gov. Rick Snyder to address proposed education changes laid out in his April 27, 2011 Special Message on Education, would also incorporate performance-based funding, at first in a small way and then increasing the proportion of performance-based funding over time.
Some are critical of the proposal, which seeks to fulfill Snyder’s vision of a Michigan education system in which a student could learn “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way and Any Pace.”
“Instead of looking forward, his plan goes back to the past and would enact nearly the same voucher system that Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2000,” said state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing). “It would create fiscal uncertainty for every single school in the state and only succeed in lining the pockets of the CEOs running for-profit corporate schools. ‘Schools, Inc.’ is a disaster waiting to happen.”
While state Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford Township, Milford Village, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield) said he respects the work the Oxford Foundation put into the proposed revisions to the School Aid Act of 1979, he said a lot of questions remain unanswered.
“If we have a student that wants to take two classes in South Lyon and two in Novi, how are they going to get there?” he wondered. “There’s logistics problems. Public schools have to transport kids with buses, and that makes it very, very difficult.”
West Bloomfield Schools Superintendent Dr. Gerald Hill also expressed concern over the proposal, which he called “a very sophisticated state voucher system for education. As such, local control would disappear over time.”
He also said that efforts to increase online learning may be premature since the results of similar reforms have not yet had enough time to be analyzed.
“In these 300 pages, the Oxford group took every conceivable idea to see what sticks,” Hill said.
A public comment period on the proposal began Monday, Nov. 19 and runs through Dec. 14. A revised draft is expected to be sent to Snyder before Christmas, and some of the proposed policies may be included in his budget message slated for February 2013.