Calm before the storm: national politics indicate looming threat for MI charter schools

Dan Quisenberry
Apr 22, 2019 12:10:51 AM

With nearly 40 million people spanning its 163,696 square miles, California is a powerhouse of a state. And with nearly 1,300 charter schools serving thousands and thousands of students, their movement of concerned advocates is expansive and influential. But despite turning out 8,000 of those dedicated parents, students, educators and community members to stand up for charters at their Capitol, CA lawmakers still voted against those families and communities - and are continuing to lay a path of destruction in the country’s largest charter school operated state.

It was just last summer that our own airwaves were full of negative political rhetoric about charters. Politicians from all kinds of backgrounds on the campaign trail (prior to the November election) took a stand against us, relaying statements like... it should be illegal for anyone to make money while managing a charter schoolcharter schools siphon money from public educationMichigan charter schools are not performing and are hurting public education. But despite the attacks, we weathered the storm and emerged relatively unharmed. 

What's happening in California, Illinois and New York right now should be warning signs for all Michigan charter families and educators. Lawmakers in these states are moving legislative attacks with not just one, but a number of contentious bills that are meant to block, control and hinder charter schools in their communities - moratoriums to pause charter growth, with long-term impact that would mean no charter contract EVER gets renewed. And over the last few years, we have watched as state elections continue to add numbers to a growing list of legislators who are hostile to the charter cause. 

Yes, the last few years have been calm for charter school legislation and policy in Michigan. After achieving the success of lifting the cap on MI charters schools, and enduring numerous significant attacks, we've become mildly complacent in using our collective voices - we were celebrating the wins. Decreasing our grassroots and advocacy efforts. Getting better at what we do, but not getting better at talking about it.

But around us, the landscape was changing - and is still changing. In the last couple years, we've witnessed the retirement of legislative institutional knowledge, experts in education innovation and reform, and veteran supporters of our cause. Those changes leave us vulnerable as we look around and see the very real threats facing our fellow charter communities across the country. And no matter how great we get, if we can't stand strong to advocate for ourselves and our kids, we will be silenced. 

The facts are simple: charter schools in Michigan have a long history of fighting for and delivering on what’s best for kids. At MAPSA, we've spent over 20 years standing at the front lines. We were there when local community wars erupted trying to stop new charter schools from opening, and when news story after news story outright attacked charter school accountability, often without using legitimate facts. I have become accustomed to the fight - we've worked very hard at MAPSA to effectively absorb the pressure and intense attacks from political opponents over the years, but moving forward that simply isn't enough.

The reality is that the days of comfort and complacency for Michigan charters are over. Based on the national trends we are seeing more and more frequently, the fights to come will be high-stakes and very difficult. Each and every one of us must be willing to stand up and fight for our charter schools and our communities, or these amazing opportunities will soon be eliminated. We know that you are doing meaningful and impactful work for students and communities at your charter school. It is worth fighting for.  

We can’t begin the fight for our right to exist on the day that devastating legislation is introduced to harm charter schools. We need to stand up now, before we enter a time of crisis. We need you to lead, on behalf of all public education. We need to make sure that all kids have access to high quality opportunities, like charter schools. This means coming to Lansing to rally together, and commenting on social media posts and digital newspaper articles. It means emailing your legislator’s office, and attending your Senator’s coffee hour in your local community. It means supporting and amplifying your charter teachers through the media and press.

It is time to lead. It’s time to advocate for our students. It’s time to fight the good fight again for all Michigan’s kids.

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