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Bill would give Michigan public schools veto power over competitors

Some school districts tear down buildings rather than sell to would-be competition

Charter schools and other alternative educators could have a more difficult time securing buildings if Michigan enacts House Bill 5025, which was the subject of a Feb. 27 hearing of the House Education Committee.

The bill would repeal Public Act 98 of 2017, the educational instruction access act. That measure prohibits school districts from using deed restrictions to control what happens to buildings they sell.

Lawmakers enacted it after the Detroit school district used a restriction in an attempt to keep a charter school, Detroit Achievement Academy, from purchasing one of its vacant buildings. The academy prevailed and moved to the building, but only after a significant political effort.

Detroit Achievement Academy founder Kyle Smitley told legislators at a Feb. 27 hearing that in 2018, her school desperately needed a larger building. She found a 100-year-old building, once sold by Detroit Public Schools, that had sat empty and in disrepair for 10 years. A developer that bought the building wanted to sell it to Smitley’s charter school, but a deed restriction placed by the district stood in the way.

Smitley asked the Mackinac Center for Public Policy for help. The Center approached legislators with information about charter schools and the effect of the law. The Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder stripped districts of their ability to use deed restrictions.

The effort to repeal the current law is led by Rep. Noah Arbit, D-West Bloomfield.

Speaking at the hearing, Arbit said the current law is essentially the educational equivalent of banning non-competes. Arbit also shared that districts are choosing to demolish buildings instead of selling them to competitors. Rather than sell buildings and bring in more money to the district, public school officials are tearing down buildings so that charter or parochial schools can’t purchase them.

The current law does not force districts to tear down buildings, Michael Van Beek of the Mackinac Center argued in a recent commentary. Districts, he said, “tear down buildings to prevent local residents from having the option of sending their children to an alternative provider.”

Smitley told CapCon that repealing the access law will increase neighborhood blight.

“It will allow school districts to place restrictions on buildings that will have the effect of forcing them to sit empty, rotting,” Smitley said in an email.

She contrasted that with her school's neighborhood, which has seen increased home values. The charter school won second place for the Yass Prize which came with a $500,000 award.

“Communities across Michigan shouldn’t be punished because the West Bloomfield School District is misleading the public into thinking the choice is between demolishing a school and repealing a state law,” Smitley said.

Arbit did not respond to an email 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.