Column: Charter and public students are equal

Dennis Brewer and Jim Hurd

A piece of legislation currently before the Michigan House would allow all public school students — both traditional and charter — to be valued equally by the state. As charter school parents and board members, we strongly support this legislation. We feel that our kids shouldn’t be worth less simply because of the type of public school they attend.

The legislation (Senate Bill 574) deals with regional enhancement millages, which are public school millages that voters must approve on a countywide basis. Currently, there are regional enhancement millages in place in six counties, including two of the state’s largest counties, Wayne and Kent.

Since these are public school millages that are supposed to benefit public school students, one would think that charter public school students would be included in this. Sadly, they are not. Charter schools are excluded from regional enhancement millages, and that’s the inequity that SB 574 seeks to remedy.

When the law passed in 1997 that allowed counties to ask for regional enhancement millages, charter schools were still new to Michigan, so the authors of the original legislation probably just didn’t think to include them. But now a full 10 percent of all students in Michigan are charter school students (more than 50 percent in Detroit and Flint), so it’s time to fix the law.

There is no fair or rational reason that charter school students should be excluded from these millages. None. This is a public school millage. Our schools are public schools. Our kids are public school students. As charter school parents, it’s offensive to us to think that our kids are worth less to the state.

While there is no fair or rational reason to oppose this legislation, there appear to be plenty of political reasons. These were on full display at the state Capitol last week when we went to Lansing to testify on this legislation before the House Education Reform Committee.

We heard several state representatives speaking out against charter school students like our kids, all in an apparent effort to appease their political donors. There are few things more offensive and galling than to see your child being used as a political pawn, but that’s exactly what they were doing.

To them, we say that our kids aren’t political pawns. They’re just kids who want to get a great education at a great public school. Why would you want to punish them?

We heard plenty of false political arguments being thrown around to justify this, and perhaps these politicians just have a basic misunderstanding of how charter schools operate. First, it’s important to remember that all charter schools are nonprofit public schools. They’re not owned by anyone other than the people of the state of Michigan.

Second, if our schools were to receive money from a regional enhancement millage, it wouldn’t be some corporation that would decide how the money would be spent. The money goes to the school — not to any company. That’s a false talking point that the politicians who oppose this bill have been trying to use. The money goes to the school, and the school board decides how it would be spent. In the case of our schools, the money would be going right back into the classroom.

And third, charter schools are already at a financial disadvantage compared to other public schools. Unlike traditional public schools, we have to pay for all of our facilities, all of our technology and all of our building repairs and upgrades out of our general fund. Unlike other schools, we can’t bond for any of that, and we can’t ask for millages for any of that. So even before we start talking about a regional enhancement millage, charter schools are already at a disadvantage.

As parents, it was devastating to hear politicians in Lansing saying that our kids should be valued less than other kids.

Our kids aren’t worth less to us. They shouldn’t be worth less to you.

Dennis Brewer is a parent and board member at Light of the World Academy, a charter school in Pinckney. Jim Hurd is a parent and board member at Summit Academy, a charter school in Flat Rock.