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Legislature rushing school debate

December 7, 2012
By Michele Lemire , Daily Press

ESCANABA - The United States supports innovation and growth; yet also supports equal rights and the "common good." Public education was built upon these ideas, to see that all children can get an equal opportunity for a quality education. Obviously it has been a work-in-progress, as our society has identified more and more things for schools to address, going way beyond "reading, writing, and math." Schools and staff members have constantly adjusted to these increasing expectations, yet they persist despite the challenges, knowing that the students we educate today will be our citizens of tomorrow.

Along with addressing state and federal expectations, schools continue to be formed and reformed in the eyes of communities. Maintaining traditions and creating new ones strengthens the glue that holds communities together, and helps to create a sense of belonging. A special kinship within our school community develops, along with a strong sense of pride. This is so true of Escanaba Area Public Schools, but also true in all of our Upper Peninsula schools! Special things such as this help to make Escanabawell, Escanaba! Imagine if all of this suddenly was to be taken away. It may be, unless our citizens and families take action.

The legislature is debating several bills designed to "reform schools," changing the instructional delivery system as well as the funding structure. The debate is being rushed in these next few weeks, even though the implications of such changes have not been thoroughly researched. While the impetus appears to be "reform," it really stems from a financial standpoint, putting our children at risk, making them the guinea pigs of the ultimate experiment for educational reform. Funding for public schools has been slashed in the last few years, forcing schools to cut staff and programs.

Thankfully due to our generosity of our communities, and the commitments of our families and staff, we haven't sunk, but what the state is considering could very well be the final straw. Given that our schools have not had a reliable funding stream and have been forced to make drastic cuts over the last five years, it is ironic that it is now, that certain individuals in our state are seeing fit to deliver the final blow.

Some of these new bills are HB 6004 and SB 1358 which would expand the power of the Educational Achievement Authority beyond the bottom 5 percent of school districts and provides for state control over unused school buildings (in the house version). New forms of schools (cheaper) could be created under this legislation, and these schools would not be held to the same high standard as existing public schools. State funds would be diverted to these new schools, lessening what could be given to existing schools. Our students deserve a high quality education, with research-based instruction, delivered by highly qualified staff.

The state contracted with the Oxford Foundation to look into a funding structure that supports Governor Snyder's vision of schools. Again, while perhaps well intentioned, the end game for these recommendations provides our students with an untested, shaky educational delivery system with no guarantee that it will actually work. Plopping a student in front of a computer to take an online class without a "guide on the side" does not assure a student will learn to the depth our colleges and businesses expect. How does this make a student college and career ready? These drastic changes do not maintain an equitable share of instructional support for all children, and makes budget forecasting next to impossible for school districts. Parents have not had a good opportunity to understand what it would mean for their children nor have community members had enough information to know what it would mean for their schools' programs and traditions. What has the Escanaba Area Public Schools and the majority of our state's schools done so wrong to warrant such radical action? The answer is "nothing." So why the big push now?

I am not against change, nor am I against educational reform. However, I am not for rushing through something just to "get it done," without regard to the consequences. We need to serve all children and invest in our schools so we can ensure the future "common good" of our society.

The state is responsible for maintaining our roads, forests, police, and prisons, but it is also vested with appropriately supporting its schools. I understand we need to be wise with our funding, but at the same time we cannot be careless with our goals. Children are much too important, and they deserve better. Our families and communities deserve better. Please contact your representatives in our state legislature and tell them to be thoughtful with their decision-making.

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Michele Lemire is superintendent of Escanaba Area Public Schools



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