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Gov. Snyder education reform act: 'Parents should be able to choose'

December 13, 2012
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Snyder aide unveils education reform plan
Richard McLellan, education advisor to Gov. Rick Snyder, presents the governor’s Michigan Public Education Finance Act at the Amway Grand Plaza. Photo by Mike Nichols

In the middle of Lansing’s already-controversial week of legislation, education has been thrown in among the many issues under scrutiny by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Richard McLellan, education advisor to Snyder, presented the Michigan Public Education Finance Act today at the Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids. The first draft of the act, put together by McLellan, will be on the governor’s desk tomorrow, Dec. 14.

The proposed act “recognizes that all parents should be able to choose the best educational option for their child” and is “not a voucher proposal” — as it “does not allow funding for private schools and only pays for public education, as current law requires,” according to the Oxford Foundation.

 “(Snyder) has the duty under the constitution to submit his budget proposals sometime in January or February,” McLellan said. “That’s a budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. At the earliest, anything we’re proposing would be implemented Oct. 13.”

Hosted by the West Michigan Policy Forum and Talent 2025, McLellan presented on the five major points of the draft report to West Michigan business and education personnel, saying the plan is a much-needed change to the current education system, which is “agrarian-calendar modeled after the industrial factory assembly line.”

Due to be presented to Snyder before Christmas, the five major concepts in the draft are as follows:

1. Removal of district “ownership” of a student.

2. Creation of online learning options with performance funding.

3. Funding will truly follow the student.

4. Framework for performance-based funding for all courses.

5. Early graduation scholarships.

McLellan’s plan, set to replace the School Aid Fund implemented in 1979, does not address special education, private and nonpublic schools or early childhood issues, a notable snub questioned by local educators after the presentation.

McLellan said although those are important issues, it would have expanded the task far beyond what his team was capable of doing.

“Special ed is such a technical area, and it has such strong advocates, you would have to have a much broader base of people to deal with it,” he said. “From the governor’s message, (this plan) was not focused on special needs and therefore not part of our charge. . . . I assume his budget people are dealing with it, but sometimes you can’t take on everything.”

Many of the objections to the plan will not be related to special education but monetary issues, McLellan said, and the concern is legitimate. For those being asked to run a school system already losing enrollment, it could create a much more challenging and less stable environment, he said.

There is a deeply held view that education is a zero-sum game, McLellan said, and educators are competitive over any dollars going to other schools, even if it helps students.

“Anybody who has built their career running a particular type of institution, and they’re being told by politicians that they have to change the way they do things, tends to engender opposition,” he said. “Whenever you talk about education, and they say it’s all about the kids, it’s all about the money. It’s always about the money.”

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