School Officials Fearful of 'Segregation'

They should look at current system first

Several school superintendents are suggesting that proposed education reform legislation would lead to segregation in Michigan schools.

In a column titled "A dagger aimed at the heart of public education," Bloomfield Hills Superintendent Rob Glass writes that House Bill 5923, which would allow for new forms of charter public schools, including selective schools, "...will likely lead to greater segregation in our public schools."

South Lyon Superintendent Bill Pearson used the same talking point, saying that the bill is "...segregation of schools. It's not right. It creates a system where kids are siphoned off depending on what kind of school they want."

Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie Markavtich, who just completed a weeks-long speaking tour advocating against education reform legislation, told a reporter that "This will re-segregate our schools by race and class. This is classism at its worst."

If Glass, Pearson and Markavitch are really concerned about segregation, they should take a good long hard look at Michigan's current public school system — and their colleagues.

The following school districts have actively worked to prevent certain students from attending their schools. Though Michigan law allows districts to take in a limited number of students who do not live within their boundaries (and to receive state funding for them), many districts do not participate. 

The districts below have gone beyond that: Some have conducted mass student investigations, and others have manipulated the education funding system in order to receive extra state money while not admitting additional students.

Grosse Pointe: The district does not participate in "Schools of Choice," which would allow students who do not live in the district to attend Grosse Pointe schools. According to Patch, Grosse Pointe investigated more than 180 students suspected of being "nonresidents" during the 2011-12 school year, and told 42 to leave.

The district also requires families who rent their homes to submit affidavits from their landlords listing who lives in the home. Keeping nonresident students out has become a priority issue for at least one Grosse Pointe-area politician, and lead to the organization of a group called "Residents for Residency."

Birmingham: The Birmingham School Board advocated against education reform legislation because it would "…undermine the very structure which supports strong property values."

In part, the board is referring to the fact that the proposed legislation would give more Michigan students the option of attending a school outside of the district in which they live. That is, students would have more power to choose where they go to school, and districts would have less power to stop them from entering.

Rep. Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham, put it this way: "People pay to live here and be in this district. To simply say you can enjoy the benefits of the Birmingham school system without paying the taxes is just free-riding and I'm not OK with that."

That statement overlooks the fact that state education dollars follow students to the district of their choosing. So even though taxpayers from all around the state are already supporting Birmingham schools, only certain students are allowed to attend. Moss, along with Birmingham school board members, seems to view the Birmingham district as an elite, selective district that has the right to turn away students.

In order to keep nonresident students out, Birmingham policy requires parents who rent their homes to provide signed affidavits from landlords, copies of utility bills and proof of car insurance, among other documents (see Policy 5111). Furthermore, if a child attending a Birmingham school is found to be a nonresident, the district will charge back tuition, attorney and investigation fees, and will notify police of possible “criminal residency fraud.”

Parents and community members who want that "elite" experience should pay for their children to attend private school — instead of asking Michigan taxpayers to foot the bill.

Freeland: According to a survey, more than 70 percent of Freeland residents opposed allowing nonresident students to attend Freeland schools, and the school board voted first against becoming a Schools of Choice district. However, Superintendent Matthew Cairy urged the board to reconsider so the district could receive additional money from the state.

In order to access up to $131,000 in additional state funding, the school board voted for a very restricted version of Schools of Choice: Five nonresident kindergarten students would be allowed to attend. It is not clear whether any nonresident kindergartners have actually been admitted.

Chelsea: The Chelsea School District offered just one seat for a nonresident student during the 2011-12 school year — in a virtual academy. No student enrolled, but the school district will still receive more than $130,000 from the state for technically being a Schools of Choice district.

In their statements against providing students with a greater ability to choose from an expanded selection of schools — what they call segregation — Glass, Pearson and Markavitch ignore the inequalities in the current public education system.

Currently, a student's school is generally determined by where he or she lives. It is no secret that parents look at local public schools when purchasing a house, and it should not be a secret that some school officials use this system to keep students out. 

Allowing students more freedom to attend schools of their choosing — public charter schools, conventional public schools or online schools — would help decouple the relationship between home prices and school quality. The end result would be that students from lower income families could have the opportunity to attend higher quality schools.

What would be so wrong with that?