Legislative candidates fill out a lot of questionnaires from interest groups in election years.
Some stick with their answers if they are elected; others flip flop when it comes time for an actual vote, which doesn't sit well with the groups that asked the questions, or with voters who want elected officials to stay true to their word.
In 2010, the Great Lakes Education Project, a pro-schools of choice group, asked prospective legislators about increasing or eliminating the cap on charter schools in Michigan, but when a vote was taken, some Republican legislators voted contrary to how they answered the Great Lakes questionnaire, said GLEP Chairman Jim Barrett.
“It was greatly disappointing that a small number of legislators voted contrary to their support for eliminating the cap on charter public schools as expressed in their Great Lakes Education Project candidate questionnaires,” he said. “We are grateful to those members who supported additional educational options for parents and students in Michigan and voted consistent with their response to our questionnaire.”
Barrett did not name specific lawmakers. However, based on context and timing, the key votes involved were those cast by House members on Senate Bill 618. If so, that narrows the field to five Republican lawmakers who voted against the bill. They were: Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville; Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan; Rep. Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City; Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac; and Rep. Sharon Tyler, R-Niles.
When asked how they voted and whether they changed from their questionnaire in 2010, there were mixed answers as to why they voted no.
“That would have been 17 months ago, I have no idea how I answered it at that time,” Rep. Potvin said. “I'd say I answered it with my vote, which was based on the idea that one size does not fit all. In my [House] district we do not need to open up that door. We have one charter school, which does a good job, and is doing fine.”
Rep. Muxlow also said that he didn't recall how he'd responded to the GLEP questions in 2010.
“I don't know what I said to GLEP,” Rep. Muxlow said. “I guess I stand behind all of it. My position is the same as the position the governor had taken. I support charter schools in areas where there are failing schools. At one time they were talking about excluding counties with populations of less than 50,000. They got that, but then changed it to eliminating the cap.
“I represent a district with eight small schools that are successful, but legislation has been tearing them up,” he said. “They keep talking about choices, but in my district, students have 17 different education choices. I support charters, if it's an area where schools face failure.”
Rep. Callton said his position on eliminating the cap on charter schools has changed since 2010.
“I have changed my position on this after reviewing performance reviews on existing charter schools. I was disappointed,” he said.
Rep. Tyler said her answer on the GLEP questionnaire was “yes.” She voted "no."
“While I certainly support successful charter schools — and I do think that some areas of our state will benefit from a complete elimination of the cap — I believe that some regions of Michigan should have the charter school limit raised rather than removed,” she said. “I wanted stronger language in regard to the locations of new charter schools as well as a bill that would gradually raise the cap over a five- to 10-year period to give some public schools time to improve, and it was these concerns that ultimately influenced my vote on this bill.”
Rep. McBroom said he qualified his answer when he filled out the GLEP questionnaire, by including an explanation of the conditions under which he'd vote “yes” on lifting the cap.
“I answered quite clearly that I do support the expansion of charter schools in Michigan,” he said. “I also answered quite clearly that I would not support an expansion that did not take into account the undo competition for resources and students in areas of the state that have successful and well functioning traditional public schools.
“I advocated for and committed to supporting the charter cap lift if it protected areas, especially the rural areas I represent, as long as their schools have high graduation rates/proficiencies. I thought this was a fair compromise and was certainly my position throughout my campaign and was certainly what I intended for GLEP to understand from my questionnaire."
McBroom's office sent a copy of what he wrote on the questionnaire. It opened with the following paragraph:
"I say 'yes' knowing this is true in many areas of the state, but also recognizing many other areas have excellent options available including the option of homeschooling I would like to know more about the universities responsibilities and the authorization process before granting unlimited numbers to be created. While I support these as general guidelines and good possible approaches the dynamics contributing to drop out rates and failing school are often more complex than just bad teachers, lack of choice or lack of programs. Family and community factor in to this problem in a large way and should be evaluated case by case rather than just axing a school that has not met certain thresholds alone.”