Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
I recently received word from a friend of a friend that the Michigan Education Association is supporting the Senate DPS legislation as written. The MEA is also telling its members that the Senate bills would not affect them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Throughout the debate over the pending DPS legislation, many people have lost sight of the fact that SB 710 would affect the powers of public school districts across the state.
SB 710 would make certain amendments to Section 11a of the Revised School Code. That’s the section that enumerates the powers and responsibilities of Michigan public school districts. It would also make amendments to Sections 501 and 502 of the Revised School Code, allowing any school board to authorize its own district-wide charter, regardless whether the district thereafter continues operating grades K-12 as is required under current law.
The amendments to Section 11a would expressly provide that Michigan public school districts are not required to operate their own schools, and would allow any public school district in the state to outsource the education of all pupils and the operation of all schools to any “public entity.” Under existing Michigan law, the phrase “public entity” would almost certainly include a public school academy (i.e., a charter school).
If you ask a lobbyist, he or she will tell you that this is a minor, harmless amendment that was simply included to allow certain small constituent districts to contract with their ISD or a neighboring district for the provision of educational services. But these lobbyists are not experts in the interpretation of statutory language. If the drafters of SB 710 had intended to limit this amendment to contracts between constituent districts and ISDs/neighboring districts, they certainly could have done so. But they did not. Instead, they included broad, sweeping language that would allow any school district to stop operating schools of its own and contract with any “public entity” for the education of its pupils. You have to wonder why.
Any why does SB 710 remove the current language in Sections 501 and 502 specifying that school boards may only authorize their own charters if they operate grades K-12? Might it be to permit a K-12 school board to authorize its own district-wide charter, and to then turn over the education of all district pupils to that charter, despite the fact that the board would no longer be operating grades K-12?
If SB 710 is enacted as written, Michigan law will explicitly allow any public school district to contract away its core educational functions for the first time in history. While the power to outsource many services already exists in the Revised School Code, it is simply not clear whether this power extends to the operation of schools themselves. This amendment would turn something that is presently implicit at best into an explicit power for all school boards in the state by expressly providing that a school district need not operate its own schools. Remember Muskegon Heights and its wonderful experience with Mosaica? This amendment would authorize any school board to authorize its own charter and then enter into a district-wide contract with a charter company, even in an affluent district that is financially sound and not subject to emergency management.
This amendment would apply to all 540 traditional public school districts in Michigan. So ask yourself this question: Why would the MEA be supporting a bill with such a provision? Probably because the MEA—like AFT Michigan—does not understand the principles of statutory construction, and has no idea what the amendment would really mean.