House Democrats Oppose Cyber School Growth

Caucus: plan to increase online instruction lacks clear standards
Tuesday, May 1, 2012

LANSING – The Michigan House Democratic caucus today challenged the Republican-backed plan to lift the cap on virtual charter schools, or cyber schools, in Michigan because the plan fails to provide enough accountability regarding educational quality and could siphon critical dollars from traditional, brick-and-mortar schools to private out-of-state companies. A bipartisan group of lawmakers also were concerned over the lack of reliable evidence on the effectiveness of online instruction. The legislation, Senate Bill 619, passed in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature on near party-line votes, but was denied immediate effect in the House thanks to Democratic opposition. “I’m glad we were able to push the pause button on this legislation, which could have drained millions of dollars from our public schools and given the funds to out of state for-profit corporations,” said House Democratic Leader Richard E. Hammel (D-Mt. Morris Township). “Our fight to protect our public schools continues, and we will be reminding voters that their kids are our priority.” Lifting the cap on cyber schools in Michigan is one of a number of Republican-sponsored bills that will harm the quality of education available in local classrooms, colleges and universities. Specifically, Senate Bill 619 will expand the number of cyber schools that could operate in Michigan and the number of students that can enroll in cyber schools. Currently, there are only two sanctioned cyber schools in our state. After Dec. 31, 2014, that number could jump to 15 cyber schools state wide. “We couldn’t stop this bad cyber school bill last week, but we at least delayed it from taking effect this year, so our school districts won’t be quickly overrun with for-profit cyber schools offering students an unknown product,” said Democratic Floor Leader Kate Segal (D-Battle Creek). “Last week, Republicans joined Democrats to vote against this bill, so there are serious questions on both sides of the aisle about this classroom experiment.” Because SB 619 eliminates the requirement that cyber school students be previously enrolled in a public school, total statewide student counts could increase as many non-public school students and homeschooled students not previously enrolled in a public school could now become public school pupils enrolled via a cyber school. But, the increase in pupils could prove harmful to traditional school districts as districts stand to lose foundation allowance aid and other categorical aid due to the loss of students to cyber schools. Cyber schools would thus receive the same level of foundation allowance aid without having to pay for buildings, transportation, utilities or supplies like traditional schools. The new plan is tantamount to a voucher system that will divide the school aid fund between more students necessitating a cut in the foundation allowance while at the same time removing students and funding from traditional public schools. This will leave already financially stressed districts that much closer to Emergency Manager status. “The vote today to keep the expansion of cyber schools from taking immediate effect was an important first step, but it wasn’t our final one,” said State Representative Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield). “We won’t stop until a quality education is available to every child in our state.”