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'Any Time, Any Place' School Choice Plan in Michigan

Michigan Gov. Rick Synder proposed sweeping changes to education this week, but perhaps his most striking idea is to create an open-market for students to choose public schools—without regard to traditional district boundaries.

The Republican governor labels his choice plan "Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace." Students and families who live in a school district would be given the first option to enroll, but school systems would also be required to accept out-of-district students, space permitting.

If more students want a spot in a district than space allows, schools would fill those spots by lottery, Synder says.

School choice is a hot topic among Republican governors these days. Synder also calls for removing restrictions on the seat time and the length of the school year, week, and day. He wants to encourage more blended learning, which combines online and face-to-face instruction, and he says that any Michigan student who needs or wants up to two hours a day of daily online education should receive it. That means limits on enrollment in virtual schools will be eliminated.

Snyder's plans could have big implications for the long-troubled Detroit public schools. City school board members and others say they're worried that the governor's proposal would essentially empty the district, by encouraging parents and students to leave.

The idea of creating more educational options for students, and saving money for the state and districts through technology is not new. Idaho lawmakers approved a measure this year that will bring new technology to schools around the state, as part of an Republican-backed education plan that provoked a strong and at times unruly debate. Other states have promoted or expanded tech options for similiar purposes.

Synder's proposal covers a lot of other ground, too, and many of his ideas will have to be approved by the state's legislature, which is under Republican control.

The governor also calls for implementing performance pay for teachers, and changing the state's funding formula to reward schools for making academic gains. He says that any caps on charter school in districts with at least one failing school should be eliminated. Additionally, he calls for setting tougher standards for teachers to pass their certification tests, a step that he noted has been taken by neighboring states.

But the governor's proposed changes to school funding—which includes state financial incentives to districts that control employee benefits costs—has drawn a skeptical response from the Michigan Education Association.

The benefits proposal "means nothing to financially-strapped school districts cutting staff and programs—nor to the countless districts that have already taken such measures," the union said in a statement.

The union seems to take a more positive view of Synder's goal of improving the early childhood system. The governor says the current system consists of "fragmented, segmented, and highly specialized" programs, fed by 84 different funding streams. He wants to consolidate them into a single early-childhood education office.

Which of Synder's proposals are likely have the greatest potential to improve Michigan's schools? And where do you think he misses the mark?

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