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District: Proposed State Education Overhauls ‘Appalling’

After a draft bill that if approved would bring sweeping education in 2013 was unveiled, Dearborn Public Schools’ superintendent and board members spoke out about how those changes could affect programs and students.

A 300-page education reform bill drafted for Gov. Rick Snyder that would overhaul how public education is administered in the State of Michigan was universally renounced by the superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools and members of the Dearborn Board of Education Monday night.

The bill would drastically change the state's public school system, including the following changes:

  • Vastly expand online education at state expense
  • Allow students to choose what district they would like to attend—essentially ending the time-honored policy of going to school where you live
  • Allow per-pupil funding splits to accommodate students that choose to attend classes at more than one district
  • Convert the school year to an all-year configuration
  • Provide $2,500 per semester to students who graduate early, not to exceed $10,000

“I think this bill is appalling,” said DPS Trustee Aimee Blackburn at the board's Monday night meeting. “There are too many people in Lansing that are trying to take control over what should be a local decision.”

Supt. Brian Whiston said before Monday’s meeting that the new program would be an unmitigated disaster that destroys the construct of local school districts, while creating a nightmare scenario at the time of implementation.

“I’m all for giving students more options, but this is in the wrong direction," he said. "We need to be able to provide these options within our framework. This would take away all of that. You can’t have students going in all sorts of directions.”

The Oxford Foundation, a non-profit group, paid for the research that backs the proposal. The foundation, according to its website, focuses on projects that “lessen the burdens of government.” Board President Mary Lane wondered if the legislation was actually designed to benefit Michigan’s children, or if the bill was  motivated by other factors.

“Is it a way to further reduce funding?” she said. “I don’t know.”

New school rules

The proposed Michigan Public Education Finance Act would replace the current School Aid Act of 1979.

Though the proposed bill could be changed before it is introduced into the state legislature, its unclear what affect the bill, as written, would have on Dearborn’s current programs, which include an extensive early college program and comprehensive vocational and technical training.

“We have a lot going on at our schools that is positive,” said Whiston said. “It’s not known how any of this would be affected if we had students coming and going all of the time.”

The backers of the bill cite achievement gaps at many of Michigan’s schools as the main reason the system needs to be overhauled. But changes made to Michigan’s educational system have not necessarily benefitted all students, said Trustee Hussein Berry, who pointed out that the charter school law was passed without requiring charter operators to offer special education programs.

“They always talk about giving students options,” he said. “But what kind of options are they giving to special education students?”

The fact that $10,000 in incentive funds would be up for grabs for students to exit the system also raises questions, Lane said.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea to encourage students to finish early,” she said.

The draft legislation was posted online for public examination Monday on The Oxford Foundation's website.

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