Karen Twomey on Education Legislation

Karen Twomey on Education Legislation

(Karen Twomey, Ferndale School Board Member and guest columnist, Nov. 28, 2012)

One thing I know with certainty is that the residents of the Ferndale School District care passionately about education. We are fortunate to have a wide and healthy volunteer base of community members supporting many schools, foundations, activities, and droves of voters who proved that passion at the November polls.  Today I write to beg the help of each of you. The current lame duck session is considering a batch of bills that pose a threat to not just Ferndale, but all of our Michigan public schools. And they are expected to move quickly.  The obstacle to advocacy is not a lack of concern, but a lack of time to research the issues and where to voice your concern. For your convenience, I am providing this link to write your legislators using an editable form letter which addresses the most eminent legislation; it should take less than a minute.

As background, last year Lansing provided a $1.8 billion tax break to businesses which was largely funded by a $1.2 billion cut to education. The bills being considered this month now present new threats to education both financially and structurally.  Financially, the bills aim to repeal the personal property tax without any planned replacement revenue, and additionally to divert more public dollars into private hands through the expansion of charters. Structurally the governor is trying to create a state-wide school district under his control which would remove authority from local bodies, and even the state superintendent. Furthermore, included in this package is a bill that expands eminent domain by mandating that any unused school buildings can be seized and used for charters, even those that will be run by for-profit corporations.

Below is a list of the bills with links to the specific language:

  • House Bill 5923, contains a laundry list of changes to the school code including the creation of new types of schools and governance models. As it stands, this bill could open Michigan up to various new categories of charters and charter-like schools, many of which would be run by for-profit school management companies.
  • House Hill 6004 is the most controversial of all the bills. This bill will create a state-wide Education Achievement Authority under the office of the Governor which will run schools across the state. It eliminates local control and even provides the EAA the authority to seize any unused public school buildings. This bill is considered unconstitutional on the grounds that it diverts public monies to privately run schools (Article VII) and gives the executive office powers outside those described in the constitution (Articles V & VIII).
  • Senate Bill 620 is also known as the Parent Trigger bill. If passed this bill will allow parents to sign a petition to take over control of a school. Parents would be allowed to employ a for-profit EMO to manage the school. Interestingly our state’s largest parent advocate organization, the Michigan PTA is against the bill and has created an electronic toolkit specific to fighting against this bill.
  • Senate Bill 1065-1071 will repeal the personal property tax. The concern over this bill is that it fails to create a substitute form of revenue.
  • Senate Bill 770 and Senate Bill 870 , attempt to cap the school bond loan fund.

Unfortunately the planned legislation does not end here. Early in the next year I will be asking for your help again as Lansing will be considering a draft bill replacement for the School Aid Act. The Oxford Foundation has released a draft bill for consideration most likely around February. This bill will completely replace the School Aid Act and rewrite the way we fund public education by creating a public voucher system. Public comment for the bill is currently opened for anyone interested in commenting.

For those interested in writing their own letter related to these concerns, I am providing additional resources for your convenience. We need people to write emails, post on Facebook, Twitter and contact media outlets such as: Woodward Talk, The Free Press, Detroit News, WJR’s Paul W. Smith and Frank Beckmann, as well as WDET, just to name a few. These bills will pass unless we speak up.

Below is a video about the legislation from Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie L. Markavitch:

UPDATE:  You’re Invited . . . Please spread the word:
School Issues Legislative Forum: A Public Advisory for Education Meeting
Thursday, December 6, 2012, 7:00 pm

Oakland Schools Superintendent Dr. Vickie Markavitch will present information about current legislation being deliberated in the State House and Senate that have the potential to severely alter the public education system in Michigan.

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