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Attack on Public Education and Community Schools

Editor, Advertiser:

Decisions made during the lame duck legislative session may have devastating effects on public education as we know it today.  House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358 create sweeping changes that would have a significant impact on public schools throughout the state, and here in Tuscola County, by creating an Education Achievement Authority (EAA). The timeline to contact your legislator on this important issue is very short! House and Senate committees are meeting now and action will be taken within the next two to three weeks. The superintendents of Tuscola County are concerned about this legislation and would like to share with you some important information.

House Bill 6004 would create a single statewide school district to take over school buildings in the bottom 5% of schools related to performance. This statewide district would be governed by a board of directors appointed by the Governor, not our publicly elected State Board of Education. It would also bypass requirements in the school code and could even allow federal funds to bypass the State Department of Education — going directly to this new education authority!

Under House Bill 6004, this new district will be able to open new schools anywhere it chooses in the state. The bill will even require your school district to sell or lease any empty school building to the newly developed school district. This new school district could also be a for-profit charter school. It would require local school districts to keep unoccupied school buildings ready for the Education Achievement Authority or any other education entity, such as a charter school, to open a school in your community and compete with your local community school.

The bill prevents districts from selling unused buildings for non-education uses even if the district could receive more money. Many districts have closed buildings to reduce costs and would now be required to keep the building “school ready.” The cost to keep these buildings “school ready” will come from operational budgets, further reducing funds that flow to classrooms and students.

This new statewide district operated by the EAA is not required to meet the same quality requirements as local public schools, nor does it need to follow the state’s assessment systems (such as the Michigan Education Assessment Program), making it impossible to compare these schools to all other public schools. The EAA schools would also not be required to follow the newly mandated teacher evaluation requirements that your local districts have implemented to ensure that the best teachers are in front of your children.   The EAA is the first step in dismantling public education as we know it and reducing local control. Michigan Board of Education President John Austin calls the EAA legislation a “nuclear bomb” for education. If legislators accept the provisions of these bills, it will open the door for another series of bills in the coming year, such as House Bill 5923 that allows a host of new forms of charter schools, including selective admission schools, and potential store-front schools operated by businesses, cultural organizations and other groups.

For example, any company could open a school for the children of its employees and collect state education funding for it. These are funds no longer provided to our local school districts. Essentially, the EAA creates a parallel public school system in direct competition with the current system operating with a strained budget!

Legislation such as this may have a devastating effect on local schools and communities. It will not help us provide excellent education to all children. It will take away your local community control, bypass safeguards required by all other public schools, and funnel you tax dollars to for-profit corporations. As superintendents, we are not opposed to an EAA. We are opposed to a parallel system lacking local control and local oversight!

In our current schools, parents and community members have access to a local board of education to address concerns about the operation of their community school. Under the EAA proposal, the school may be operated from one remote location with a board of directors lacking direct accountability to the local community. Is this the community school you want using your local tax dollars?

We encourage you to contact your lawmakers to express your views on this topic. Rushing this extremely important decision in a lame duck session could harm our students, schools, and communities for many years to come.  Please contact Senator Mike Green at 517.373.1777 or senmgreen@senate.mi.gov and Representative Kurt Damrow at 517.373.0476 or kurtdamrow@house.mi.us to express your thoughts on community schools and the possible effects of the EAA.  We thank the community for your support of education and our local community schools.

Sincerely,

Steve Ley, Superintendent, Akron-Fairgrove Schools

Bruce Nelson, Superintendent, Caro Community Schools

Jeff Hartel, Superintendent, Cass City Public Schools

Mike McLaughlin, Superintendent, Kingston Community Schools

Rhonda Blackburn, Superintendent, Mayville Community Schools

John Males, Superintendent, Millington Community Schools

Randy Middlin, Superintendent, Reese Public Schools

George Rierson, Superintendent, Unionville-Sebewaing Area Schools

Tom Palmer, Superintendent, Vassar Public Schools

Gene Pierce, Superintendent, Tuscola Intermediate School District Superintendent

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