Well, I've gotten a fair amount of feedback on my last blog post. And I just want to clear up a few things:
1. My goal was not to "attack" the MEA or AFT Michigan. I'm generally in support of their efforts on a wide range of matters. Heck, my mom was an MEA member for 43 years. Nor am I really trying to persuade anyone -- I know that most people don't care what I say, and their support for (or opposition to) SB 710 won't turn on the technical amendments to Sections 11a, 501, and 502. After all, there are a lot bigger issues involved in this legislation. I'm just trying to let people know that there is more than one way to interpret a bill -- and the best way is to interpret it according to its plain language.
2. Contrary to some things that have been said, SB 710 would effect a change in the authority of Michigan general powers school districts by making explicit something that is now only implicit. Yes, I am fully aware that school boards already have the power to outsource many services under the Revised School Code. However, it is simply unclear whether this power extends to the operation of schools themselves. The proposed amendment would turn the power to outsource school operations -- which is presently implicit at best -- into an explicit power for all school boards.
3. Yes, I am also aware that school boards can authorize their own charters. But it is equally unclear whether a school board would have the power to authorize a charter and then turn over all pupil-educating responsibilities in the district to that charter. According to current law, only a school board that operates grades K-12 may authorize charters. If a school board were to authorize a charter and then hand over all district responsibilities, would it still be operating grades K-12? Not according to the dictionary definition of "operate." And if not, wouldn't the charter's authorization be put in jeopardy? These are all unanswered questions under Michigan law as it stands today. But SB 710 (or the identical language contained in the House plan) would do away with these questions entirely by eliminating the requirement in Sections 501 and 502 that school boards operate grades K-12 in order to authorize charters, and by explicitly allowing any school board to contract with any other public entity (including a charter that it has authorized) for the education of all district pupils.
4. As I've written before, this problem can be fixed through two minor changes. Under Michigan law, the phrase "school district" does not include a charter school. So first, the Legislature should strike the words "another public entity, including, but not limited to," and leave only "another school district or an intermediate school district." By eliminating the words "another public entity," and leaving in place the textual reference to other "school district[s]" and ISDs only, constituent districts would still have all the powers to contract with ISDs and neighboring districts. Second, the Legislature would be required to leave in place the words "that operates grades K to 12" in Sections 501 and 502 -- words that would be eliminated by SB 710 as currently written. By the way -- regarding this last point -- even if school boards are not likely to authorize their own district-wide charters and then turn over all pupil-educating functions to those entities, why should we be encouraging the expansion of school boards' power to authorize charters? Just something to think about.