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It's Count Day: know where your school funding is going?

Respected Friend,

Just a few days ago, a group of Democratic state lawmakers announced that they would introduce legislation to put a hold on the creation of new charter schools until the state developed a better system to oversee their finances. The draft bill, of course, was a reaction to the stunning investigative work by the Detroit Free Press in their June expose on the questionable financial dealings of private, for-profit charter schools in Michigan. (If you haven't read it, you really should.)

Now, as the minority party in both houses of the legislature, there is essentially zero chance that this Democratic bill would be passed as-is. It's an election year, when you tend to see a lot of this kind of thing. But they were also trying to make a point. Part of that point is to say that the people of Michigan want to make sure that public funds which are intended to educate our children are not siphoned off to line some private contractor's pockets.

That point seems to have escaped representatives of the charter industry. Dan Quisenberry, president of the charter trade group MAPSA, sent an agitated message out to their supporters saying that this was the "first step towards what they really want: NO charter schools!" Mr. Quisenberry goes on to say that "Charter schools,... put the right people in the driver's seat!" I know he means us to think of parents and students, but given the Free Press' revelations it's an interesting turn of phrase.

The letter concludes: "You deserve more choices, not less." We agree with him there, but our notion of choices is probably a little different. Michigan parents would like:
  • the choice to spare our local community schools from the budget cuts needed year after year as state funding available for classrooms stagnates and declines;
  • the option to actually participate in determining what our schools do and how they work, rather than have decisions made in some corporate headquarters;
  • the opportunity to have our local schools offer many choices, and innovative programs, to all children in our community, rather than making our schools more factory-like to try to save money and keep up with budget cuts.

The way the current system is working, the state funds the profits and high administrative costs of charter management firms and actually takes choices AWAY from students, parents, and citizens. How is this good for our kids, or for our future?

But MAPSA's call to action isn't just based on a desire for choice - it's based on fear. Mr. Quisenberry writes: "Ask yourself this question: Is my child's school safe?"

Michigan parents believe every child deserves to attend a school that's safe and that this should be a top priority of our local districts and state. But is the charter industry really working to make all schools safe, or just offering an escape hatch for a few? Of course, as parents, we all need to do what is best for our children. But as human beings, we also need to work toward what's best for all children and the future of our communities.

MAPSA's call to action generated some 300 emails to every state representative - the same 300 people, each writing to the whole legislature. Help Michigan Parents for Schools remind our lawmakers of what the real folks back home truly want for our schools. Click here to send them a message today!

Steve Norton
Michigan Parents for Schools
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