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December 5, 2012

County educators providing opposition to proposed laws

Officials against statewide school district, charter, online schools

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK — The lines have been drawn in the sand between current public educators and for-profit charter and online schools.

Two House bills and two Senate bills are sitting in the state Legislature with action expected to come in December. HB 6004 and SB 1358 would allow the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) to oversee a statewide school district, HB 5923 would allow for charter and online schools in Michigan and SB 620 would allow parents to petition for their public school to be converted into a charter school.

Vickie Markavitch, superintendent of Oakland Schools, has been holding several meetings throughout the county to speak with staff and parents of various school districts warning of the dangers of these bills and urging them to contact their respective state legislators to vote against the proposed laws.

“What worries me is this work is being pushed forward so fast that people don’t even have a chance to learn about it,” Markavitch said during a Nov. 27 gathering at Royal Oak Middle School. “This is going to change community schools as we know them. Community-governed schools are at risk.

“I think Lansing’s getting out of hand. I don’t know what sort of energy’s gotten into them up there, but it’s running amok.”

The Royal Oak gathering was highly attended by staff from nearby Lamphere Schools in Madison Heights, but also featured superintendents from Royal Oak, Clawson and Bloomfield Hills.

“The record is not there for charter schools to support this,” said Marsha Pando, Lamphere superintendent. “It’s about money. It’s about taking our hard-earned dollars and putting it into a checkbook.”

Pando said one cyber charter school recently had a $500 million profit while paying its CEO a $5 million base salary, with the rest going to supporting companies, not back to the students. She also said charter schools have four times the dropout rate of public schools.

“This type of move totally severs that connection between schools and the community,” said Shawn Lewis-Lakin, superintendent of Royal Oak Neighborhood Schools.

Markavitch said the bills, if passed into law, would make education a for-profit industry that would rapidly deteriorate public education through privatization and corporatization.

“These forms of schooling are going to be exempt from the state Board of Education, from our superintendent. This brand of schools wouldn’t have to take the tests we take,” Markavitch said. “It expands the scope of who the EAA could take into its schools. They can take any student from any school in the state.”

One of her biggest worries on behalf of the students was with those who would be left behind in the process.

“Charters could specify the student body they would like to serve,” Markavitch said, noting they could discriminate based on anything except religion. “It would lead to segregation of the worst kind and leave the poor behind. It could even leave the special education students behind. You cannot make a profit on the most expensive kids.”

Support for the bills is being drawn mainly from organizations that would benefit from them. Markavitch said the groups are privately well-funded.

“The agenda for these partners is to denounce and de-fund public education,” Markavitch said.

To counteract reports of public education’s struggles, Markavitch provided national data comparing 1970 to 2011. In 1970, public education led to 20 percent of 25-29-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree, 78 percent with a high school diploma and a high school dropout rate of 15 percent. In 2011, the comparable numbers are 33 percent with bachelor’s degree, 90 percent high school diplomas and a 50 percent reduction to 7.4 percent of students having dropped out of high school.

Markavitch said statements by Gov. Rick Snyder that more than 60 percent of high school students are taking remedial college courses and just 16 percent are college ready are simply inaccurate. She said just 22 percent are taking remedial classes and 66 percent are college ready.

She additionally noted that the U.S. has improved in several international rankings of public education during the past 15 years, despite a national poverty rate of 23 percent. In Oakland County, she said the poverty rate is 25 percent. Markavitch cited the poverty rate in a top-performing country like Finland is just 5 percent.

“In Oakland County, one out of every four of our youngsters are living in poverty. A few years ago, it was one in every eight,” Markavitch said. “The biggest thing we haven’t figured out yet is how to get children living in poverty to the level of children not living in poverty.”

The set of bills were drafted by Richard McLellan, co-founder of the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a national public policy research and think tank for legislators. McLellan, an education advisor to Snyder, did not return messages seeking comment by press deadline.

“The resources allocated to public schools will be siphoned off to these schools to provide these specialty schools,” said Rob Glass, Bloomfield Hills School District’s superintendent. “Some things just need to be public, (such as) police, fire, library and schools. I feel they would cease to be ours.”

Markavitch concluded the gathering by urging district staff and residents throughout the county to visit the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education at www.tricountyalliance.org and get in touch with their respective legislator, identified by ZIP code, by Dec. 12 through the blue Tri-County Capwiz button at the bottom of the home page.

Search for and read the proposed bills in full at www.legislature.mi.gov. For more on the Mackinac Center, visit www.mackinac.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Chris Jackett at cjackett@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1110.