News Story

Democratic Lawmakers Target Charter Public Schools, School Choice

State Dems introduce twice as many laws to restrict charter schools than to fund roads

In the last five months, Democrats in the Michigan Legislature have introduced 10 bills and two budget amendments that impose more oversight, reporting requirements, regulations, restrictions or an outright ban on charter public schools and the entities that authorize ("charter") them. The bills are part of an escalating battle over the extent which Michigan parents who can't afford or don't prefer private schools can still choose where to send their children to school.

The bills come at a time when the number of charter schools in the state has expanded from 240 in 2009 to 303 in the current school year. The expansion was made possible by a law passed at the end of 2011 that phased out a cap on the number of schools authorized by the most common chartering entity, state universities. This year an additional 17 charter schools opened, while 11 were closed, for a net gain of six.

The 10 anti-charter bills involved eight different sponsoring legislators with nine coming from the House and one from the Senate.

By comparison, while Democrats made "fixing the roads" a big part of their 2014 general election campaign theme, this year they have introduced just four bills that had some ties to increased road funding.

“This is not to say Democrats don’t care about roads,” said Jack McHugh, senior legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “What it does show is how much they do care about protecting unionized conventional schools from the growing competition from charters.”

Union dues from conventional public school employees fund a substantial proportion of organized labor's political activity in this state, and most of that activity is on behalf of Democratic politicians.

"It's probably no coincidence that the current 'war on charters' seen in these bills, in newspaper reports, in state education bureaucracies and elsewhere is occurring in the months leading up to the Jan. 1 elimination of the previous cap on the number of charters," McHugh said.

The 10 bills ranged from mandating that charter schools file more reports with the state, to prohibiting additional charter schools from being created, and in one amendment, repealing the law that authorizes creating any charter schools at all.

“While the vast majority of Michigan’s voters would like the Legislature to address our crumbling roads, the House Democrats continue to mount a misguided crusade against parental choice and charter public schools,” said Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project. “Their priorities are inconsistent with what their own constituents are telling them.”

Robert McCann, spokesman for the Democratic Senate Caucus, and Michigan House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, didn’t return emails seeking comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.