Debate continues on cyber school expansion


With a committee room packed with cyber school supporters in yellow scarves in honor of National School Choice Week, the debate over SB 619—whether unlimited cyber schools is an element of sound education reform—continued in the House Education Committee. 
While the lineup of those testifying may change, the arguments don’t. Supporters continue to claim that cyber schools will provide more and better choices for a child’s education than a traditional school can. 
Critics aren’t necessarily condemning cyber schools, but they point to the lack of data to warrant the unlimited expansion of what is really an education experiment. They want the Legislature to wait until the two Michigan cyber schools have been in place for two years to study the effectiveness. The state Department of Education and the Governor agree.
Speaking in support of the bill this week were Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, and former State Superintendent Tom Watkins. 
Quisenberry defended the success of the two Michigan cyber schools, “The schools have waiting lists that are five, six times the enrollment allowed and 98 percent of the parents at the schools are saying their children are doing a better job in these schools.”
Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) asked Quisenberry where his evidence was to support his claims since her research shows the opposite. He promised to get it to her.
Watkins told the Committee that students now need to compete in a global world and cyber schools provided a way of preparing them to do that. But, he too cautioned opening the door to unlimited cyber schools without adequate research, “The idea is to encourage the quality schools and let the good become great and weed out the bad ones. Talk with students, teachers and parents at the current cyber schools.”
Jerry Johnson, Executive Director of Communications and Development at Genesee ISD, provided compelling testimony in opposition to SB 619. The ISD established and uses the Genesee Network for Education Telecommunications (GenNet) for a blended K-12 learning experience. He worries that lifting the cap on cyber schools will be a welcome mat for for-profit management companies that care more about profits than the quality of education.
“This shows public schools are interested in providing options to students, Johnson said. “We negotiated the market landscape to meet our needs, not the other way around. SB 619 presents the potential to Wal-Mart public education.”