Michigan Senate approves charter school expansion bills

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By Jenny Kalish
Lansing Star staff writer

Six bills passed in the Michigan Senate last Thursday that would lower restrictions on charter schools, which keep them from flourishing throughout the state.

A group of first grade students at Cole Academy worked on an in-class project with smiles on their faces.

“Right now, there’s a cap of 150 schools that universities can charter in the state of Michigan. The main provision of this legislation would remove that cap, which means there’s no longer going to be a limit on how many charter schools there are,” said Buddy Moorehouse, Director of Communications at the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

State restrictions on charter schools were initially put in place to test their success rate before allowing more to open. “It’s been about 17 years now since the first charter school opened. There’s a track record of success now. So, in our view, it doesn’t make any sense to put a limit on the number of schools you can have.” Moorehouse said.

Kindergarden students at Cole Academy read books together on the floor.

Kindergarten students at Cole Academy enjoyed some reading time together on the floor.

Students who attend charter schools in Michigan often test higher than those who attend regular public schools —one of the many reasons why 70 percent of the charter schools in Michigan have waiting lists. “The Lansing schools have had their problems in recent years, and I think a lot of parents are recognizing that and choosing to put their kids in charter schools,” Moorehouse said. There are currently seven charter schools operating in Ingham County, and Moorehouse says most of them have waiting lists.  “If you were a parent of a third grader and you wanted to send your child to the Cole Academy in Lansing, you might not have that chance.”

Big blue sign off of Mt. Hope in Lansing, where Cole Academy is located.

Cole Academy, a fairly small school house located off Mt. Hope, is the longest standing charter school in the state of Michigan.

Brian Shaughnessy, Principal of Cole Academy, says the creation of more charter schools is important because of the competition it creates.

“Competition challenges charter schools and public schools to do things better.  That trickles down to the classroom, through professional development to improve teachers and using research-based instructional practices in order to produce higher achieving students.” Shaughnessy said.

However, more charter schools in some districts could pose a problem for public schools with high success rates. For this reason, Republican Sen. for the 24 district, Rick Jones, voted no on the bills supporting unlimited charter schools.

“I think that if you have a school district where the school is failing, such as Detroit, then more charter schools should be allowed. But in districts where the schools are functioning without a problem, I don’t think we need anymore charter schools.” Jones said.

Colorful hallway at Cole Academy

The hallways of Cole Academy were filled with colorful artwork created by the students.

The proposed legislation would also end geographical limitations for school-of-choice participants, increase charter school access for private school students and allow for the further development of cyber charter schools. Michigan is limited to just two cyber schools, but if the proposed legislation becomes law, those caps would be lifted.

Ron Nelson, senior governance associate at the Michigan Association of Charter School Boards, believes if the school is successful, the state shouldn’t prevent a student from receiving an online education. “They provide a service that parents and students want or they simply wouldn’t be in business.  Some students don’t fit into the educational mold we’ve developed in this country.” Nelson said.

The Michigan House of Representatives will vote on the bills in the next few weeks. Two more bills regarding charter schools are currently awaiting action by the Michigan Senate.

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