After heated debate, committee reshuffling--House Education Committee lifts charter school cap

After a hurried reshuffling of the House Education Committee yesterday to ensure the needed votes, the Committee today reported out SB 618, which would raise the cap on charter schools.

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.  Contact your state representative today -- urge him or her to vote NO on SB 618 that would allow for unlimited charter schools, regardless of the quality of those schools and the resources they draw away from neighborhood schools.

In advance of today's vote, House Speaker Jase Bolger announced late Tuesday that Rep. Holly Hughes (R-White River Township) was being replaced by Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto) on the House Education Committee. Hughes continually wavered on the charter school cap issue but Bolger claims his move protected her politically from both the MEA and Republican constituencies. What it really did was assure passage of the bill, despite opposition from within the Republican caucus.

Bolger also added Rep. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) to the committee, replacing the recalled Rep. Paul Scott. He represented another "yes" vote on SB 618. Both Lyons and Bumstead supported the bill. Rep. Thomas Hooker (R-Byron Center) was the only Republican to vote "no" on the bill in committee.

The 11-6 vote came after a contentious Committee meeting which looked and sounded more like a war zone than a legislative hearing. As the new Committee Chair, Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) sparred with Democrats over amendments, the agenda and ultimately, “control of the gavel.”

The only amendment Democrats got through deals with lifting the cap on Schools of Excellence established by Race to the Top. Amendments requiring charters to provide transportation, show “demonstrated performance” before opening new ones, reducing authorizers’ profits, paying teachers a prevailing wage, and limiting where charters can locate were soundly defeated along similar party line votes.

As reported yesterday, Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) and Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) will be introducing a constitutional amendment banning for-profit companies from operating charter schools.

During the meeting, McMillin refused to address any issues which he labeled “quality” because he intends to name a subcommittee later this month to address school quality. He specifically referenced the closing of non-performing traditional schools.

The House can take up SB 618 at any time. It's crucial that you contact your state representatives immediately and urge them to oppose this bill and any other efforts to increase the number of charters without holding them to higher standards for accountability and transparency.