Michigan House Votes To Lift Charter School Cap

Michigan Legislature Votes To Lift Charter School Cap

A bill that would lift the state cap on charter schools passed the Michigan House 58-49 Wednesday night. It passed the state Senate in a close vote earlier this year.

The bill removes limits to expanding charter schools in Michigan. There are currently 255 such schools across the state. The bill lacks quality controls -- one of the sticking points for its critics -- and it eases regulations on charter school operators looking to open schools in the state.

[UPDATE: 11:10 a.m. -- The Senate approved the House version of the bill 22-16 Thursday, MIRS reports. The bill will now go to Gov. Rick Snyder.]

House Education Committee Chairman Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) released a Wednesday night statement praising the legislation.

"Michigan's children should not have to wait for adults in government to remove limits on their future," he said. "By phasing out this arbitrary, outdated cap today, thousands of students currently on charter school waiting lists were given real hope for a better tomorrow."

Before the bill was voted out of the House Education Committee on Nov. 30, House Republicans shuffled committee members, replacing Rep. Rep. Holly Hughes (R-White River Township) with Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto). Critics, including the Michigan Education Assocation, which represents teachers, charged the move was made to ensure sufficient votes for the legislation.

Charter schools are publicly financed but can be privately run, some for financial gain. For-profit charter companies already control 80 percent of Michigan's charter schools.

In November, state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) introduced a bill that would amend the state constitution to prohibit for-profit charter schools in the state.

Charter school quality has been mixed nationally and in Michigan, and especially in Detroit. A recent Detroit News analysis found charter high schools in Detroit performed worse than traditional public schools. According to the report, just six of 25 Detroit charter schools had higher math or science proficiency rates on the Michigan Merit Exam than traditional Detroit Public Schools.

As HuffPost's Joy Resmovits reported in November, because it lacked quality controls, the charter school bills put Democrats who favor school choice between a rock and a hard place.

State Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) spoke to HuffPost in November.

"For those Democrats that support choice, we have been put in an awful position because of the heavy-handed approach that Republicans have taken," he said. "Because they put together these bills in secrecy, we end up being hands-off."

Several education-reform groups pushed for quality control in the bill, but they disagreed on language that would add standards.

In a Wednesday night statement, state Rep. Kate Segal (D-Battle Creek) called the passage of the bill "a complete assault on our public school system in Michigan."

"Senate Bill 618 unfortunately benefits for-profit charter schools at the expense of our public schools and their students," she said. "Removing the cap will allow an unlimited number of for-profit schools to open in whatever community they choose and put students at risk."

The House bill does differ from the version passed by the Senate. But the two chambers could agree on changes and move to a final vote on the legislation as early as Thursday.

This story has been updated with comment from Rep. McMillin and Rep. Segal, as well as the final Senate vote on the bill.

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