Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
With all the recent attention focused on House Bill 4822, the third-grade retention bill, you might have missed the fact that the Michigan House of Representatives passed a pupil transportation bill on Wednesday by a vote of 85-21 (see below).
House Bill 5753, introduced by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Holland), would amend the requirements in §1321 of the Revised School Code governing when a public school district that provides busing for its resident pupils must also provide transportation for nonpublic school pupils. Advocates of the bill claim that it would simply clean up outdated language in the Revised School Code, bringing it in line with current school-funding practices. In particular, they claim that because school districts no longer receive categorical funding to pay for transportation under the State School Aid Act, the language of §1321(b) needs to be deleted.
But the bill is not necessarily what it purports to be.
Section 1321(b) does not specifically mention categorical funding under the State School Aid Act. Instead, it broadly references any state aid that could potentially be used for transportation -- including the per-pupil foundation allowance. In short, eliminating the language of §1321(b) would require a school district that offers busing for its resident pupils to provide that same service for nonpublic school pupils regardless of whether the district receives any state funding to pay for it.
What else would House Bill 5753 do? As passed, the bill would not specifically require school districts to pay for and provide transportation for charter school pupils. However, the Michigan House education committee, chaired by Rep. Price, tipped its hand when it referred the bill with substitute H-1 earlier this month (read the September 8th committee minutes here).
Although H-1 was not adopted when the bill reached the House floor, the text of the substitute is telling. Under §1321(c) as presently written, one of the three requirements for providing pupil transportation is that "[t]he pupil is attending either the public or the nearest state approved nonpublic school in the school district . . . ." Substitute H-1 would have rewritten this subsection to provide: "[t]he pupil attends either a public or state approved nonpublic school in the school district . . . ." What was the purpose of this proposed amendment? Well, the current statutory language "the public . . . school in the school district" refers only to the specific public school operated by the school district in question. By contrast, under well-accepted principles of statutory construction, "a public . . . school in the school district" would mean any public school within the boundaries of the school district, including a charter school. See MCL 380.5(6). In other words, substitute H-1 was designed to extend a school district's statutory duty to provide transportation under §1321 to pupils attending charter schools within the boundaries of the district.
As I've said, substitute H-1 was not adopted. However, H-1 provides critical insight into the thinking of the Michigan House education committee, as well as the ultimate objective of the Republican proponents of House Bill 5753. Ask yourself this: Even if House Bill 5753 is enacted and signed into law without the H-1 changes, couldn't the Legislature simply revisit the bill during the post-election "lame duck session" and make these additional, minor amendments? Of course it could.
Requiring a school district that offers busing for its resident pupils to provide transportation for all private and charter school students within the boundaries of the district would be extremely costly. Consequently, many districts would have no other choice but to stop providing pupil transportation altogether.
Certain proponents of House Bill 5753 have expressed contempt for traditional public education. It seems to me that bankrupting school districts or effectively forcing them to discontinue their busing programs would fit nicely into the anti-public-education agenda.
Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Twp) has introduced an identical bill, Senate Bill 1046, in the Michigan Senate. That bill is pending before the Senate education committee.