LANSING – With the passage of the anti-public, pro-privatization Senate Bill 618 earlier this month that lifts the cap on charter schools, the next piece of anti-public school legislation is Senate Bill 619 that lifts the cap on cyber schools.
Two for profit charter schools were created because of the federal Race to the Top legislation as a pilot program, but after just one year in operation, the Michigan Legislature wants to open the flood gates to these experiments. The schools were targeted for dropout students and had an enrollment cap of 1,000 students. A statutorily required report examining the impacts of cyber schools on K-12 education after two years is due out in 2012, yet Senate Republicans chose to move forward blindly without waiting for the results of that report. Cyber schools are an experiment and lawmakers should wait to see results before expanding this means of education.
Not only that, a recent report by the National Education Policy Center raised numerous red flags about cyber schools, warning they could become a cheap way of providing second-rate service to disadvantaged students.
“Few rules, little supervision, many students and families who struggle, and an unacceptably large number of enrollees who won’t make it through to the end,” said report co-author Dr. Gene V Glass.
Mary Aldecoa, the former principal at the now closed but successful Parkers Corners Community School in Fowlerville for 12 years has seen these at-risk students and gotten very involved in their lives. That includes students living in cars where it’s hard to find Internet access and homes where there is no parental involvement.
“Mom probably would have sold the computer for her next fix. That’s why I said that’s the worst possible model you could have for at-risk kids,” Aldecoa said in a story in the Dec. 25 edition of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.
In that same article, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, claims “Michigan’s two cyber schools are performing as well as or better than the statewide average for the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test (MEAP). He made the same claim in front of the House Education Committee on Dec. 6 when a hearing was held on the bill, and where the bill is still pending.
However, The Michigan Virtual Charter Academy that made a presentation at the Dec. 6 House committee meeting failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) during their one year of operation, and that was not brought out. Apparently, the school only tested less than 80 percent of their students instead of the required 95 percent. That requirement is in place so a school cannot cherry pick and only have their best students take the MEAP.
If the school fails to make AYP next year they will be “identified for school improvement.” Many people have raised concerns about the lack of transparency of cyber schools; transparency we are requiring of regular public schools. When the bill was approved in the Senate in October, Senate Democrats introduced amendments requiring cyber schools to make their management contracts, leases and any third-party contracts, leases or deeds available on the school’s website, but that was narrowly defeated.
This bill, along with Senate Bill 618 that lifts the cap on charter schools, is just a thinly disguised attempt to privatize public education and bust teacher unions.
On the one hand the Governor is pushing for consolidation of public school districts, yet we are going to allow an unlimited amount of small, for profit schools that drain resources away from the public school that must educate every student. In Michigan, 80 percent of charter schools are operated by private, for-profit education management organizations. Allowing these organizations to continue profiting off the backs of our children is unacceptable, and instead of the money going to the classroom, it’s going to CEO salary and perks.
A good example of the problem with for-profit charter schools is the National Heritage Academies out of Grand Rapids. This corporation operates charter schools in nine states, but the bulk of their schools are in Michigan where they operate 33 schools. The next closet is Ohio with 10. A look at the campaign finance reports in 2011 may give you a clue why they want the cap lifted.
Their CEO, J.C. Huizenga, made some large contributions to Republicans in 2011. In September he gave $25,000 to Rep. James Bolger, R-Marshall, the Speaker of the House. He also made a $20,000 contribution to the House Republican Campaign Committee, a $20,000 and a $10,000 contribution to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and three separate contributions to the Michigan Republican Party of $15,000, $15,000 and $10,000.