LANSING (AP) - A Republican-controlled education committee on Wednesday forwarded to the full House for a vote a bill that would expand the state's authority to take the reins at low-performing schools.
After more than two hours of testimony, the House Education Committee vote 9-5 on a measure that would greatly broaden the purview of Michigan's Education Achievement Authority, which is currently operating in 15 Detroit schools.
Many Democrats object to the plan, saying it usurps local control and hasn't been in effect long enough to be proven successful, but its Republican backers say students at schools with persistent academic problems can't wait.
"We have a moral and constitutional obligation to help these kids that are in systemically failing schools," Republican Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, committee chairwoman and sponsor of the legislation, told reporters after the hearing. "What is happening in these schools currently has not been working. It's time to rescue these kids."
The bill would allow the authority to take over schools in the bottom five percent of achievement for three straight years, based on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program for elementary and middle school students and the Michigan Merit Examination for high school students. The number of schools that could be taken over by the authority would be capped at 50.
A similar bill was introduced last year but stalled in the Legislature during the lame duck session.
The authority would become a separate school district, controlled by a chancellor who would act as school superintendent for each of the low-performing schools. Schools would be governed by a board that consists of seven members, five of which are appointed by the governor. School faculty at the school would have to apply for new positions.
Alluding to a decision from Gov. Rick Snyder expected in less than 24 hours on whether Detroit will receive an emergency manager, Democratic Sen. Bert Johnson of Detroit criticized the schools measure as more of the same.
"It is incredible to me ... that when Detroit is the topic, in a very paternalistic fashion I continue to hear that other people know what's best for us," he said.
But Republicans say local control has failed.
"To sit back and let one more of those kids fail is unacceptable," said Republican Rep. Ken Yonker of Caledonia.
Students in the schools under the program are grouped by "instructional level" instead of age or grade level, which is designed to allow students that master a subject to immediately advance instead of waiting for the beginning of a new school year.
Schools in the authority are in class 210 days a year, instead of 180 days a year for other Michigan schools, Lyons said. The number of hours students are in school each day would also increase.
But Democrats say the program, which began last September, has not been in place long enough to prove that it is working.
"This is a completely untested, un-vetted program that we are looking to push," said Democratic Rep. Collene Lamonte of Montague.
Dawn Ducca, of the Michigan PTA, told the committee that expanding the program "allows more children to become guinea pigs for untested reforms."
Brad Biladeau, spokesman for the Michigan Education Association, raised concerns that the expansion could potentially increase costs for other school districts because Education Achievement Authority teachers would not have to pay into the public school employee's retirement system.
But Republicans say those issues can be worked out after the legislation gets passed.
"If we need to find that money somewhere else in the budget to make up for that, I'd be willing to do that," said Rep. Pete Lund, a Republican from Shelby Township.
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