The Associated Press October 6, 2011, 4:47PM ET

Michigan Senate approves charter school expansion

Michigan likely would be poised to add more charter schools under legislation that narrowly passed the Republican-led state Senate on Thursday.

The bill, approved 20-18 with some Republicans joining Democrats in opposition, advances to the Republican-led Michigan House. It's one of many bills pending in the Legislature that supporters say are aimed at increasing choices for Michigan students attending public schools.

The Senate bill would end certain numerical and geographical limits on charter schools, including the current cap of 150 university-sponsored charter schools.

The state now has a total of roughly 250 charter schools or public school academies overall.

"By offering opportunity to parents and students across the state for potentially a different educational environment, everybody wins," said Sen. Phil Pavlov, a Republican from St. Clair Township and a key architect of the legislation.

One of the provisions drawing the most opposition -- allowing public school districts to contract out to hire teachers in the same way they can now privatize some non-instructional services -- was dropped from the Senate plan Thursday.

But Democrats remain opposed to the bills, saying it appears to be an effort to help charter schools -- often run by for-profit companies -- at the expense of traditional school districts.

Public schools lose a portion of their state financial aid with every student they lose. If a student goes to a charter school, the money follows the student to that school.

"All we're doing is subsidizing these for-profit ventures and diverting scarce resources from our neighborhood, locally governed public schools," said Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, a Democrat from Taylor.

Democrats also said the legislation lacks adequate protections to ensure the quality of charter schools. Republicans supporting the bill counter that it requires charter contract renewals to be based predominantly on improved student academic achievement.

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents charter schools, said the Senate vote "has put us one step closer to the day when parents throughout the state will be able to choose the education that best fits the needs of their children."

The charter school bill is one of many pending in the Senate that supporters say would allow more choice for families attending public schools in Michigan. Other bills that Republicans are working on would let students transfer to other public schools more easily by requiring districts with space available to participate in Michigan's "schools of choice" program. Another bill would allow a broader choice of online learning options.

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The charter school legislation is Senate Bill 618.


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