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Skilling not worried about education legislation

December 05, 2012 - While many school officials are in an uproar about a current group of bills in the current "lame duck" session of the state Legislature and future bills that could affect the scope of public education in schools K-12, Oxford Superintendent Dr. William Skilling told his staff not to worry about it.

"Our position in Oxford has been not to get involved in the politics in how we fund schools or become advocates for or against legislation that's being proposed. The reason is because we would rather focus on what we're doing," he said. "It doesn't really matter to us that much what they do, we're still going to continue to do what we want to do based on our plans and our focus and our vision, regardless."

According to the Oxford Foundation – Michigan website, Gov. Rick Snyder asked Lansing attorney Richard McLellan, Chief Deputy Director of the Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University Mary Kay Shields, and attorney Peter Ruddel to propose a new Michigan Public Education Finance Act to replace the existing School Aid Act of 1979 by incorporating policies articulated in the Governor's Special Message on Education issued April 27, 2011.

The new Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 is aimed at "creating a public education funding system that allows a student to learn "any time, any place, any way and any pace," and create the path toward a robust performance-based funding."

The draft bill would do the following:

· Removal of District "Ownership" of a Student.  A student will be allowed to take a course, multiple courses or the student's entire bundled education package from any public education district in the state.  A local school district will maintain its ability to determine whether to participate in open enrollment.

· Creation of Online Learning Options with Performance Funding. Technology is changing the delivery of instruction to students.  A student will be allowed to access instruction from across the state using advanced technology.  The district providing the online course will immediately receive public funding, based on performance measures.  Again, a district will not limit a student's choices.

· Framework for Performance-based Funding for all courses.  It would set the framework for the full implementation of computer-adaptive student growth and assessment tools that are on the horizon.  It would maintain the current growth funding incentives for the next fiscal year until the Smarter Balanced assessment and the recommendations from the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness are complete.

· Early Graduation Scholarships.  It would create an incentive for students – who are ready – to graduate early.  $2,500 will be available for each semester a student graduates early.

"You have the governor's proposal and you have other people contributing to the idea and giving their ideas on this as well as the legislators," Skilling said. "This is going to get vetted and at the end of the day something is going to happen where it probably makes more sense than it does currently."

The day the governor's proposal came out Skilling tweeted on Twitter "Oxford Schools has prepared for such a time as this." Skilling believes much of the opposition from other school districts is reactionary because they have not prepared for the future.

"We were talking about this six years ago, that there was going to come a point where the schools are not going to have boundaries and there will no longer be 552 school districts," he added. "There is going to come a point when virtual education is going to be predominant, so we better be prepared and do it well."

Because of their efforts, Skilling said they've grown by 1,500 students over the past six years, 500 of which came this year through their on-line program known as Oxford Virtual Academy.

"No other district in the state of Michigan has grown by that much in either percentage or number," he said.

The Michigan Public Education Finance Act goes along with two other bills Senate Bill 1358 and House Bill 6004, which would institute the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) as law and create a statewide school district, with a board and chancellor appointed by the governor.

According to the state's website, the EAA was "designed to operate the lowest five percent of schools in Michigan not achieving satisfactory results on a redesign plan or that are under an emergency manager." Currently the EAA only runs in partnership with Detroit Schools, but under the bill, the EAA would be given authority to stretch beyond just Detroit and into other districts as well as to purchase vacant buildings and create more schools controlled by the EAA.

Clarkston Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock believes the current collection of bills poses a "real threat to public education."

"I believe that they will take away our ability to make decisions locally and that they will mean cuts in programs, higher class sizes, and a decrease in achievement," Rock wrote in an e-mail to the Oxford Leader. "I believe that these proposals are untested and that they are being rushed through the legislature without adequate consideration of their effects on children."

Another bill of concern to Rock is House Bill 5923, which would allow several new forms of charter and online schools.

Rock agrees online learning is a great tool for "expanding horizons" and that people can go places with technology that they could not otherwise go. But he's also concerned about the "depersonalization of learning."

"We are humans who physiologically need interactions with other humans in order to learn. Any suggestion that online learning can replace real interactions among humans is unfounded and dangerous, I believe," added Rock. "We need a balanced approach. A child sitting alone at home in front of a computer will never constitute a comprehensive, high quality education."

Rock is also concerned that the bills do not require charter schools and for-profit entities to follow the same rules as local school districts. "Local school boards, the state superintendent, and the state school board should run schools using the same rules for everyone," he said.

Nor does Rock believe the proposals are based upon sound research.

"If Michigan and the federal government want to get serious about transforming education, they should start with evidence based practices and not politics," he said. "In my opinion, these reforms are totally driven by politics and money. This is wrong."

State Rep. Brad Jacobsen, R – Oxford said they believe House Bill 5923 is "DOA" (Dead on Arrival). "It doesn't look like it's going to go anywhere," he said.

As for House Bill 6004, Jacobsen said he's had tons of calls and getting a lot of comments on it. It currently is being worked on and is in "a state of flux." He also said he is undecided where he stands on it.

"I like the theory of it and the concept we're trying to help out the schools that are really struggling and improve the chances of those students getting a good education," he said. "The idea I've seen in some e-mails that have been forwarded to me that Lake Orion, Clarkston, Oxford, Rochester, top of the line schools are going to be gutted because of this is really I think an exaggeration of what's trying to be done."

Jacobsen said much of the information being circulated about these bills is exaggerated or hearsay to get people worked up.

Whether or not the state approves the legislation won't affect Oxford, Skilling said.

"I don't care if they allow 200 charter schools or unlimited charter schools. I don't care if they limit cyber schools or have unlimited cyber schools. It doesn't matter," he said. "All it's going to do is cause us at Oxford to work that much harder to be that much better so it doesn't matter. That's how we're looking at and why we waste no time on this part of it."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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