OUR VIEW: Wrestling with Michigan’s charter question

By Daily News • Last Updated 9:30 pm on Friday, December 02, 2011

The Daily News headline read “Outman Wrestling With Charter School Increase.”

Not surprising, because any issue relative to the funding of schools these days brings influential, well-funded, and special interests into play. There is no simple answer.

The economic struggles our state faces have placed unbelievable demands on the faculties and facilities of public school systems. For the most part in our area, schools have acquitted themselves admirably. But not so statewide … most notably in the Detroit area, schools and their children obviously deserve more than they are getting. We are one state, and we must care for all the children. If the public system is failing them, then alternative schools must be made available to help children and their parents who may be desperate for help.

Raising the cap on charter schools is viewed, understandably, as a challenge to public schools, or bluntly, the dollars of taxpayer funding available to them via the student headcount. The first question we should all ask, including Rep. Outman, is: Why would kids — or their parents — want move to another system? There are lots of answers, some legitimate, some not … but therein lies the answer to the charter expansion question. We may have no need for more alternatives in Montcalm and Ionia counties, but the ultimate right thing to do might well stretch way beyond our counties’ borders.

When Michigan adopted schools of choice legislation, the state acknowledged that “one school fits all” did not work for all children, and a spark of public school competition was introduced into what had been a century of local monopoly of K-12 education. Alas, children that just don’t fit the public school regimen have always been part of the picture. We cannot ignore or dismiss the young people who, for whatever reasons, must seek alternative forms of education.

The advent of charter schools is a further challenge to the future of conventional public school operations. The reference to “future” refers directly to how our K-12 and beyond offerings can best accommodate the needs of a population of students with special needs or advanced abilities that are better served in another system.

Once again, school systems must ask themselves, “Why would our student move to another system?” It’s the right question, because there are capable public schools, charter schools, private schools, intermediate and alternative systems and to a certain extent community colleges, all in the pool for scholarship dollars. That’s not bad. It beats the old agrarian system that paralyzed and sterilized K-12 academics. We should be encouraging any changes that include school collaboration and cooperation, the sharing and use of talent and facilities, as well as with calendars and hours that fit 21st century lifestyles.

Above all, we must help find effective solutions for the ultimate teacher heartache: Parents who just aren’t available, and/or show no interest or involvement in their child’s education. There’s likely no legislative solution for the tragedy, but we must appreciate and support anything our schools can do to engage those parents and help each child who carries that burden.

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