IRON COUNTY—A proposal to change Michigan school financing has Iron County’s state representative-elect and area school officials concerned as it moves through the Legislature.
With the motto, “Any time, any place, any way, any pace,” The Oxford Foundation of Michigan proposed finance option claims to create more educational opportunities for students. But opponents raise concerns about where Michigan tax dollars will be spent and who will be accountable for providing quality education.
“When we lose local control over our local school districts. that’s when I think we’re in trouble,” 110th District Rep.-elect Scott Dianda said in a phone interview Friday. “I want to see local control of our local governments,” he added.
Dianda, who replaces Rep. Matt Huuki in January, is concerned that the oversight and transparency local school districts provide would be missing if statewide authorities took control.
He is concerned that “emergency management teams” called for in the bill would usurp local authorities.
Dianda said school districts should reflect local values. He added that the social skills students learn while attending public schools are essential to education.
The Michigan Education Finance Project is designed to replace the School Aid Act of 1979. That legislation funded public schools based on student enrollment. When the law was enacted, the vast majority of Michigan students attended public schools. Private school tuitions and operating costs were paid by students. Home-schooling was uncommon.
The new finance proposal would “make the money follow the students,” according to the Oxford Foundation of Michigan.
Established in as a non-profit organization in 1991, the Oxford Foundation tasked itself with “lessening the burden of government,” according to its charter. In May, Gov. Rick Snyder enlisted the foundation to help draft the Michigan Education Finance Project. But according to a proposal, the group would also implement the program and oversee funding dispersal.
Elements of the program include per-pupil funding untethered to a conventional school district. That would allow students to attend any school district regardless of their residence and demands performance-based funding rather that attendance-based funding.
The proposal calls for an “educational system that offers unfettered flexibility and adaptability for student learning models and styles.”
What the system lacks is accountability. While public schools will be forced to meet certain standardized test scores to maintain funding, home schools and charter schools will have a different set of guidelines.
“When you say, ‘anytime, anyplace, any way, any pace,’ you open up an awful lot of issues,” West Iron County School Superintendent Chris Thomson said. “For example; cyber schools. If you’re paying for a student to go to a school online, there’s a good chance your money isn’t staying in Michigan,” Thomson said.
The Forest Park Board of Education is planning a meeting to discuss the issue. Superintendent Becky Waters was unavailable to comment.
Dianda is concerned that commercial schools would value profits above providing a solid education.
“I want to make this clear,” Dianda said. “These are for-profit companies that we are putting in charge of our children’s education.”
Despite less than a month remaining in Michigan’s current legislative session, Dianda believes the bill could still be passed. He suspects that revamping Michigan’s education financing system is a top priority for legislators before the new Legislature is seated in January.
Before becoming law, House Bill 6004 must be approved by the House of Representatives and Senate and then be signed by Gov. Snyder.