by Scott McClallen
A former Democratic lawmaker disagrees with recommendations from the “Education Equity in Michigan,” report the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) adopted Wednesday.
The report was issued after the MCRC held statewide public hearings in 2018 and 2019.
Buzz Thomas was the Democratic Leader of the Michigan House and the Democratic Floor Leader of the Michigan Senate in the late 1990s and the early 2000s and is the board chair of Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA), the state charter school association.
Although most of the report contains positive recommendations, Thomas disagreed with “inaccurate and insulting” descriptions of charter schools and the advice to cut charter school funding.
Thomas sent a letter Friday explaining his concerns to the MCRC and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, neither of which responded to a request for comment by the time of publishing.
The MCRC recommended Proposal A of the Michigan Constitution be amended, so charter school students only receive 75 percent of the state foundation grant that goes to other public school students.
“Schools and students also would be helped by changing the underlying policy structure of Proposal A so that funding would no longer follow students to their school of choice or a charter school,” the report reads.
In the letter, Thomas argues the MCRC’s action disproportionately attacks Black and Brown students.
“Charter schools in Michigan serve about 10 percent of all students, most of whom are Black and Brown students, and most of whom live in poverty. About 67 percent of all students in charter schools are minorities, compared to the state average of about 34 percent,” Thomas wrote.
“About 75 percent of charter school students are enrolled in the subsidized lunch program (a key indicator of poverty), compared to the state average of 50 percent. Half the students in Detroit and Flint attend charter schools.”
Charter schools provide another avenue for parents who choose to send their kids to what they believe is a better school, Thomas argued.
“Rather than funding students, you suggest we fund institutions – institutions many parents decided no longer served their children well,” Thomas wrote. “Empowering parents in diverse communities is vital to moving forward with equity and access.”
Thomas questioned the reports’ executive summary describing the state’s school system: “Charter schools siphoning off public tax money from the traditional school system.”
The summary repeats the language of Attorney General Dana Nessel in a lawsuit the state won against U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“Charter schools are public schools in every way, and they don’t ‘siphon money’ away from traditional public schools any more than traditional public schools ‘siphon money’ away from charter public schools,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas argued it’s not sensible to revoke money from institutions serving students from low-income families.
“So, when you talk about devaluing a student simply because he or she attends a charter school, you’re talking about primarily Black and Brown students. You’re talking about half the children in Detroit and Flint,” Thomas wrote.
“It boggles the mind that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission just adopted a report that tells half the students in Detroit and Flint that they’re only worth three-quarters of a person.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Buzz Thomas” by Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation. Background Photo “Michigan Capitol” by Pkay Chelle CC BY 2.0.