House Ed Committee Discusses Conversion Schools
The House Education Committee took its first testimony this week on Senate Bill 620, a bill that would create a parent-trigger law in Michigan similar to the statute in place in California that has lead to myriad lawsuits. The committee took no action on the bill and legislators on both sides of the aisle expressed concerns about various aspects of the legislation and whether it would open Michigan up to significant legal challenges and potential for voter fraud.
As currently written, SB 620 would create a process by which the parents of students in a Priority School could force the district to adopt a particular school intervention model for that building from among the four approved models (turnaround, transition, restart or closure) that originally were put in place as part of Race to the Top. The vehicle in the bill for forcing this intervention is a parent petition. The bill also has the caveat that if parents choose the restart model (under which the school becomes a charter) that they would form a parent board to contract with a charter school authorizer rather than having that power fall to the local district and the local district would be forced to lease the facility to the charter authorizer for $1.
Because the legislation would allow a subset of people (parents with students in the school building) to, in effect, take over a public school building, it raises a host of legal issues regarding the seizure of public property and the potential for a fringe group to override the will of the majority of taxpayers and voters in the district. This is further compounded because the legislation as currently written only requires petition signers to be parents of students in the building, not residents in the district, local taxpayers, or registered voters. Lawmakers focused extensively on these shortcomings in their questions about the bill and it seems unlikely at this point that the bill will gain majority support from the committee without significant revision.