The is still stuck in committee from last year but Gov. Rick Snyder is now tying the program to available per pupil funding the state could give to school districts for the 2012/2013 fiscal year.
Snyder identified schools of choice as one of six best practices for education and said districts that meet five of the six will receive the additional funding. The other five best practices are that districts must:
- publish a citizen's dashboard
- be the policy holder for healthcare benefits
- monitor student growth at least twice a year
- offer dual enrollment, Advanced Placement classes, or offer post-secondary opportunities
- offer online learning
In --officials believe the district should be able to meet the required five of six practices to receive the money but they do have concerns about it being linked to school funding.
"It's pretty clear," said Rep. Tim Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe), "he was stymied in getting the legislation through so now he's using the appropriations process to try to get it through the legislative process."
Last year, legislators tried to mandate Schools of Choice for all districts throughout the state but in Grosse Pointe officials, parents and residents have opposed the mandate not the program. One of the main arguments against it is that the mandate takes away the local control of the schools, which is a big part of why many choose to live in Grosse Pointe.
The , even those who currently participate, because it would eliminate how they choose to implement it.
Grosse Pointe Schools Superintendent Tom Harwood said the district will easily be able to meet five of the six practices without having to participate in Schools of Choice. The district, for example, has long offered Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment, he said. Few students take advantage of the dual enrollment despite it being offered, he said, explaining its likely due to the high number of AP classes.
The distirct has also been the policy holder for its own health care for years as well, he said, and monitored student growth at least twice a year.
Even though the district is likely to receive the additional per pupil funding from the state under this proposed scenerio, Bledsoe is worried that Snyder could eventually change it to make it six of six--essentially forcing Schools of Choice participation.
"I'm deeply concerned if they say five of six this year, it's the foot in the door," Bledsoe said, explaining in the future the requirements could be increased.
The idea that Schools of Choice is a "best practice" for education is also offensive to Bledsoe, Harwood and Grosse Pointe School Board President Judy Gafa.
"There is nothing to suggest that Schools of Choice is an improvement to education," Bledsoe said. Gafa and Harwood echoed similar thoughts during separate interviews.
While there has been strong resistance to the mandate of Schools of Choice legislation, Gafa said she's unsure of whether there will similar upheaval about its introduction through fiscal budgeting because most districts will probably meet five of the six whether or not they participate in the program. If a district is not already its own policy holder for health insurance, that could be problematic, she said, explaining that is a significant change that might for a district to participate in Schools of Choice if they needed the funding.
The funding being offered through this particular educational budget is about $75 per pupil, Gafa said, noting while officials are happy to receive money from the state it still does not return the funding level to what districts received even two school years ago.
In addtion to having less revenue and cuts in state funding, districts are also seeing an increase in retirement costs, Gafa and Harwood said.
The increases, which are expected to continue in the next few years, are making it "harder to spend on academics," Harwood said. He does not anticipate the changes will require significant cuts to academic programming yet, he said.
The Governor's fiscal budgeting outline still must go through the legislative process, which means the requirements could still be changed and Bledsoe plans to continue to fight Schools of Choice. He said he will be watching this particular piece closely to monitor its progress.
Gafa and Harwood said they will be interested to see the specific details of each of the six best practices, which will further determine whether districts are meeting them.
The state and the school district have the same deadline for developing the 2012/13 fiscal year budget.
"The competing timelines make it difficult to prepare and make (financial) assumptions," Harwood said. "We hope for the best but plan for the worst."