As a new legislative term begins, parents and families are looking for answers

Dan Quisenberry
Jan 3, 2023 8:49:29 PM

The election is over, there’s a new power structure in place and there’s a lot of work to be done in Lansing. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was sworn in for a second term on New Year’s Day and the new Legislature will be in session for the first time on Jan. 12. 

And after three school years of pandemic-interrupted learning, and plenty of evidence that students have fallen tragically behind as a result, parents and families have one basic question of their leaders in Lansing: “What are you going to do about it?”

Elected to a second and final term, Gov. Whitmer delivered her inauguration remarks on Jan. 1 from the steps of the State Capitol. She spoke in broad strokes about her priorities for the next four years, and when it came to education, it was hard to disagree with anything she said.

“Let’s empower every child, no matter where they live, so that they can pursue their potential, by continuing to make record investments in education from preschool to post-secondary,” Gov. Whitmer said.

Amen to that. Charter schools are all about offering opportunities to students no matter where they live, and there’s no question that investing in students needs to be a top priority.

In the coming weeks and months, with Democrats in control of all levels of state government, we’re going to see a flood of bills introduced and committee hearings scheduled. Students – and not special interests – should be the focus of every piece of legislation. Here’s a roadmap Lansing should follow.

  1. Promote and preserve Michigan’s charter law and landscape.

    Parents want more educational options, not fewer. And educators want the flexibility to do what’s best for their students. 

    In addition to preventing any new regulations and budget allocations that would negatively impact charter school students, we should remove unnecessary mandates and barriers that hinder schools from operating a program that serves their community’s needs.

  2. Equitable funding and access, including for facilities.

    The greatest accomplishment of the last legislative session was finally closing the funding gap so that all students – including all charter school students – receive the same base foundation amount. Let’s expand on that.

    Let’s prioritize an equitable foundation grant for all students and eliminate discretionary categorical funding. Providing extra money for students with critical needs is a worthy idea – students in poverty, for example, or with special needs – but all students should be valued equally no matter what grade they’re in or what school they attend.

    Facilities funding from the state should include a per-pupil allocation for all charter school students. Facilities designed to be a school, but not being used as one, should be made available for use as a charter or private school, pod, or other entity that will educate students. 

  3. Connect students to their future and expand the educator pipeline

    Allow all public schools the access to regulatory flexibility needed to achieve results for all students. The state should support policies aimed at effectively enhancing educator recruitment and retention.

    We should also support pilot programs focused on pathways for students to their future college and/or career plans and expand career and technical education. 

  4. Expand educational opportunities for all students.

    There’s one public education system in Michigan – that includes charters – and its role is to offer a wide array of diverse schools so that every child has the opportunity attend a quality school that meets their needs. 

    We need to expand educational opportunities, not shrink them. Along these lines, we should explore streamlined pathways for high-performing schools serving at-risk students to more easily replicate and expand. 

  5. Ensure fair accountability for all schools.

    Michigan needs a single accountability system that ensures comparability among schools and provides families with the information they need to make education decisions. This system should provide useful, relevant and transparent data that allows school leaders to understand the factors involved and the goals they’re striving to achieve.

Our leaders should support policies that advance achievement for all public school students, especially for some of the state’s most historically underserved student populations.

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