Our Editorial: Treat all public school students fairly

The Detroit News

The Michigan Legislature is moving quickly on a bill that would give charter schools access to so-called regional enhancement property taxes. This is a fair measure that would help stop the treatment of charter school students as second-class citizens.

Despite the uproar over charters in this state — fueled largely by the teachers union — these schools are still public schools that survive on public dollars. While we’re not thrilled with the concept of these regional millages in the first place, if intermediate school districts’ residents approve them, all public school students should benefit.

That’s only fair.

We cautioned Wayne County residents last November against passing a sizable regional tax hike. But they did. And now more than 56,000 charter school students won’t see any of that funding unless the law is changed.

Many voters (especially parents of school-aged children) who supported the measure likely believed charter schools would also have a share of the additional per-pupil funding. The millage was sold to families and voters as benefiting “each individual school district.” Well, it didn’t.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, has already passed the full Senate, after being introduced in September. It’s now headed to the House and the Education Reform Committee will take it up.

Hildenbrand tackled the issue because of the 14,000 charter school students in Kent County who don’t get any of the dollars generated by the enhancement tax there.

“They’re not receiving the same resources as other public school students in our county,” Hildenbrand has said.

For those concerned the bill would apply retroactively to existing millages, they can rest assured. As it’s written now, it would be applicable only to future tax proposals or renewals of current ones.

Wayne County voters in 2016 approved a six-year $80 million tax. Six counties currently have a regional school tax, but many others are contemplating them, and that’s why the charter school lobby is pushing to get this done now. In addition to Wayne and Kent, Kalamazoo, Midland, Monroe and Muskegon counties have approved the extra tax.

Some Democrats are going overboard in their criticism of the legislation. For instance, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, said the bill would be “stealing from our public schools.”

That’s far-fetched. To assuage such fears, though, the House should spell out that the bill would apply only to new measures — not retroactively. Some critics don’t think it is clear enough.

According to a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis, if the bill were applied retroactively, in Wayne County, the $376 per pupil funding that traditional public school students are getting would be reduced to $287 with the 56,000 charter students included.

And if the legislation becomes law, future proposals could factor in the number of charter students when asking voters for funding.

This is a fair proposal and would help ensure funding parity for all public school students.