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Overhauling Michigan's K-12 education system: The pros and cons

7:56 PM, Dec 13, 2012   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) --  With the historic Right-to-Work legislation behind him, will Gov. Snyder shift his attention to another controversial issue?

It's approaching decision time on a proposal to overhaul Michigan's kindergarten-through-12th grade (K-12) education system.  The proposal is called the "Michigan Education Finance Act of 2013" and it could be put into next year's budget.  It would replace the long-standing School Aid Act of 1979. 

Some say the plan would essentially turn Michigan into a free market system of education, and Gov. Snyder is its biggest supporter.

Efforts to improve student education in Michigan always seem to be a learning process.  Districts are constantly brainstorming new methods.  Under the new proposal, the state could make a choice to offer students more options for learning.

"The Governor wants an education system that will lead to the kind of workforce we need, the kind of talent we need, the economy we need," said Richard McClellan, a lawyer with the Oxford Foundation.

McClellan was called on by Snyder to draft the "Michigan Education Finance Act of 2013."

"We have 230 high schools in Michigan that graduated zero students ready for college," he said. "Many students are not competent and don't have the skills that they need."

McClellan calls Snyder's idea the "Any" plan.

"He called for anytime, anyplace, anyway, any-paced learning," said McClellan.

It is essentially 24/7 schooling, which would give students the opportunity to access information anywhere and learn at their own pace.

McClellan's proposal offers up three major elements, and the keyword that should remember with each is "more." 

First, there is more school choice. Students wouldn't have to take all their classes at the same school; they could go to any district in the state.

"Choice that is more responsive to a individual child's learning style," McClellan said.

Second, the proposal wouldn't just let students pick from other schools in the state, it would give them more schools to choose from, like charters run by non-profits, private firms and companies that choose to educate their employees' children.

"Try to get more creative use of technology in schools," said McClellan.

Third, there would be more pressure on schools with performance-based funding. Right now, almost 100% of state funding for a district depends on how many kids show up for the count days.  Under the new plan, money would instead follow the student wherever he or she wants to go -- and maybe that's a better school.

"The Governor wants those students to be able to access more opportunities to get college credits earlier," said McClellan.  "Now, if they tend to cluster around the more affluent communities that may be true."
 
David Waymire with Michigan for Quality Schools says allowing students that much choice in where they wish to learn "ends up creating two school districts -- one for wealthy children, one for the middle class and poor children."

Waymire's group is among a handful of educational organizations blasting the plan.  He says the proposal is nothing but an experiment.

"What's most disconcerting is [Snyder's] discussion of opening the whole discussion up to people to let almost anybody set up a school with state dollars to follow students that are not of very high quality and states not having good control of that," said Waymire.

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