Michigan Bill Would Let Parents, Teachers Decide on 'Conversion' Schools
Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation that would give parents, and potentially teachers, a say in allowing academically struggling schools to leave their districts and become independent "conversion schools."
The measure, which passed the state's Republican-controlled Senate by a 20-18 vote last week, would allow other school districts and school boards, governing boards of universities and community colleges, or some combination of those entities, to act as authorizers for those schools, according to a recent version of the legislation.
Schools could attempt to go through the conversion process if they're in the bottom 5 percent of performance in the state.
Like some of the so-called "parent trigger" laws in place in other states, Michigan's proposal would allow parents to set in motion the process of overhauling a school. It says that a petition to convert a school and implement a plan to improve its performance would require that at least 60 percent of eligible parents or legal guardians to vote in favor of it—or that at least 51 percent of parents and guardians vote to approve it, and that at least 60 percent eligible teachers do so. (The provision requiring teacher buy-in under certain conditions would appear to be an unusual one, by the standards established for parent trigger in other states.)
A recent legislative analysis of the bill says that employees of the conversion school "would not be part of the collective bargaining agreements in place for other employees in the district." The legislation says that collective bargaining agreements at conversion schools could be changed, so that "any contractual or other seniority system that would otherwise be applicable" would not apply. And any "contractual or other work rules that are impediments to implmenting the redesign plan" would be nixed, too, according to the bill language.
The Michigan Education Association opposes the legislation, as does the Michigan Association of School Boards. Don Wotruba, the deputy director of the MASB, said that while giving parents the power to select a turnaround plan is appealing on some levels, it's also problematic, he argued.
"Having parents step into buildings that are already trying and improving doesn't make any sense," Wotruba said in an e-mail. "I would rather have the education professionals decide the plan, not just parents who mean well but may not have the background to know what model makes the most sense for a building."