Former state Sen. Samuel “Buzz” Thomas, D-Detroit, has slammed fellow party member Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for vetoing a $240 per pupil increase in funding for Michigan’s charter schools while leaving the same increase intact for traditional public schools.
The cut deprives the state’s charter school system, which instructs an estimated 150,000 students, of about $36 million.
“This is an issue of fairness. Either we believe all students are equal or we don’t,” Thomas said in a statement. “Schools have been planning all year for an equal payment and at the last moment, they had the game and rules changed. This veto is unfair to the thousands of children and families who attend charter public schools in communities in every corner of Michigan.”
Thomas currently serves as board chair of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA). Thomas served as a state senator from 2003 to 2011 as well as three prior terms in the state House.
Whitmer has stated some of her line-item vetoes, including the charter school cuts, were intended to garner the attention of Republican legislators.
“School aid funding should never be used to create leverage in the bargaining of a budget,” Thomas said.
A 2015 Stanford University study of charter schools concluded: “Learning gains for charter school students are larger by significant amounts for Black, Hispanic, low-income, and special education students in both math and reading.”
The study continues: “Students who are both low-income and Black or Hispanic, or who are both Hispanic and English Language Learners, especially benefit from charter schools. Gains for these subpopulations amount to months of additional learning per year.”
David Robertson, a former GOP state senator from Grand Blanc, agrees with Thomas’ assessment of Whitmer’s budget cuts.
“Public school academies are just as much part of the choices legally granted parents and their children as traditional public schools,” Robertson told The Center Square. “As such, they should be treated in the same manner.
“It’s disappointing, because parents made a decision to exercise the choices made available to them and the education of their children. What’s even more disappointing is this action by the governor disproportionately impacts minority students.”
The Stanford University study concluded 87 percent of Detroit charter school students could be classified as meeting federal standards for living in poverty. By comparison, 85 percent of Detroit students attending traditional public schools were living in poverty.
A 2018 Forbes essay enumerated several reasons why charter schools often outperform traditional public schools, including increased accountability compared to their counterparts and the fact “schools of choice can specialize. And when families have choices, both parents and students are more likely to ‘buy-in’ to the school’s culture and academic philosophy.”
Additionally, the essay states: “Most charter schools are not unionized…. They answer to authorizers, which often have appointed boards. Even when an elected board closes a charter, it may trigger a protest from one building, but not from all teachers in a city or district.”
MAPSA acknowledges that charter schools have been targeted consistently by the state’s Democrats: “Now more than ever, charter schools are used as a political test. To effectively run in a Democratic seat as a lawmaker, there is an unspoken requirement that you will take a stand and oppose charter schools.”