by Bruce Walker
Remarks made by Michigan State Board of Education Vice President Pamela Pugh last month provoked fiery responses Tuesday from the state’s charter school community.
In her controversial comments, made Nov. 23 before the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, Pugh advocated cutting state funds for Michigan’s charter schools by 25%. The recommended cut also is included in the MCRC’s “Education Equity in Michigan” report issued on Sept. 30.
Pugh also repeated several inaccuracies contained within the MCRC report, including a claim that charter schools are not bound by the same rules and regulations as traditional public schools. She also incorrectly asserted charter schools only skim the best and brightest students from traditional public schools while rejecting students with special needs.
“It’s not OK for a member of the State Board of Education to tell lies about charter schools, and it’s even more of an outrage that she’s now recommending that charter school students be treated like they’re only three-quarters of a person,” Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, told The Center Square.
“What message does that send to these young people? It’s just hurtful and harmful,” Quisenberry added.
Noting that charter schools serve a disproportionately higher number of minority students living in poverty, Quisenberry continued: “These are students who have been held back their entire lives, and now a member of the State Board of Education wants to hold them down even further? We’re talking about half the students in Detroit and Flint. As a public school advocate, she should be trying to lift those students up, not hold them down.”
Ali Bazzi, principal, Star International Academy, Dearborn Heights, told the Board the MCRC and Pugh’s recommended funding cuts to charter schools effectively render charter school students to three-quarters of a person and “is no different than the three-fifths compromise of 1787.”
Bazzi continued: “Is that the message that we are sending our children?” he asked. “How can we teach children to trust the democratic process when in fact they are not represented as a whole person?”
Bazzi added that one of Star’s students was awarded a scholarship to Yale University. “Is she three-quarters of a person because she attended our school?”
Christel Drew serves as principal of the Madison Academy charter school in Flint.
“As a charter school educator, I strongly object to what Dr. Pugh said about charter schools, particularly her stance that our students are only worth three-quarters of a person,” she said.
“Cutting our funding by 25% would devastate our students,” she added.
Drew also noted Madison Academy services all students with all abilities, and 52% of the school’s students have earned honor roll distinctions. Additionally, she said her school, like all Michigan charter schools, must abide by the same rules and regulations as traditional public schools in the state.
“As an autism mom, I know that equity is providing choice for all students to succeed in an environment that is conducive to them, so I am grateful to charters for providing choice to our students and particularly our students in Flint.”
The MCRC report prompted Buzz Thomas, a former MAPSA board chair, to respond that Michigan charter schools educate 10% of all students in the state. The majority of those students are from economically disadvantaged minority communities.
“About 67% of all students in charter schools are minorities, compared to the state average of about 34%,” Thomas wrote. “Half the students in Detroit and Flint attend charter schools,” he said.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.