By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- Public education has faced many struggles over the years and a recently proposed bill would devastate the system more, say education officials.
H.R. 610, the Choices in Education Act of 2017, was introduced in January and seeks to establish a voucher system, as well as repeal nutritional standards for student meals served at school established in 2012.
Brandon Superintendent Matt Outlaw is not a proponent of vouchers, which are often promoted as a way to give money to parents to be used toward private school tuition.
“I understand it has great value for individual families, but for the system as a whole, it would shift resources from public schools into private schools, which would negatively effect the resources available for public school students, that is my concern,” said Outlaw. “When I think about students in Detroit, they don’t even have a chance to go to these private schools. It’s hard to argue there’s no merit, but system wise, it doesn’t make sense. It would have a negative impact on all public schools.”
According to congress.gov, where H.R.610 is currently the second most viewed bill, sandwiched between H.R. 1275, dubbed the “World’s Greatest Healthcare Plan of 2017” and H.R. 899, which seeks to terminate the Department of Education, the Choices in Education Act of 2017 would repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It would also “limit the authority of the Department of Education (ED) such that ED is authorized only to award block grants to qualified states.
The bill establishes an education voucher program, through which each state shall distribute block grant funds among local educational agencies (LEAs) based on the number of eligible children within each LEA’s geographical area. From these amounts, each LEA shall: (1) distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child, and (2) do so in a manner that ensures that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses.”
The Michigan Department of Education opposes the bill, said MDE spokesperson Bill DiSessa, as well as vouchers in general.
“We are a public school system and we are trying to become a top 10 state in the nation in education and we have plans to do that, but that does not involve vouchers… Our concern is that it would take funding from public education.”
The department does, however, support schools of choice, DiSessa added, as well as options for parents.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (MI-05) does not support the proposed bill.
“All children deserve good schools,” he said. “Unfortunately, this bill is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to undermine our public education system, leaving our public schools and students with less resources. Instead, we should be focusing on supporting public schools to make class sizes smaller, give students more access to extracurricular activities and provide teachers with the necessary training and support they need to succeed. Every student, no matter their zip code, has a right to a quality education.”
U.S Rep. Mike Bishop’s spokesperson, Kelli Ford, responded by email to a request for comment on the bill by saying that Bishop, who represents Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, no longer serves on the Education and Workforce Committee that is responsible for reviewing and marking up any newly introduced education legislation, but “While serving on Education &
& Workforce last Congress, Congressman Bishop worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make bipartisan progress for our children – including his role in crafting legislation to replace No Child Left Behind with reforms that restore local control to parents and educators. He continues to monitor legislation that advances out of their committee and remains committed to putting Michigan’s children first.”
In addition to establishing a voucher system, the proposed H.R. 610 bill also seeks to abolish the Nutritional Standards Act of 2012.
According to congress.gov, “The bill repeals a specified rule that established certain nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs. (In general, the rule requires schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat free milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals; and meet children’s nutritional needs within their caloric requirements.)”
Brandon Food Services Director Suzanne Evenson said the implementation of the new nutritional standards, intended to give children healthier fare, has been a challenge.
“The food service directors from around the country are getting together to meet with congress members and hopefully can make some changes,” she said, though she doesn’t support eliminating the standards. “We feel that the food service end of it has been too strict. The amount of food required for us to give the kids is not accurate, it’s too much or too little and things that are mandated to serve to the students could be eased up. We want to get into feeding the children healthy foods, but we want to feed them food they will eat… We want alterations, not a complete repeal. I’m afraid if they take away or make too many changes, we might lose purpose of program, which is to get students to eat healthy. So many years ago, it was kind of whatever. With the new guidelines, they can be strict, but a little leeway would give us movement in getting the kids to eat healthier. Restrictions and regulations right now are a little too heavy.”
Overall, Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook said the National Education Association has analyzed H.R. 610 and assessed it as a bad bill that will not pass, but concern about voucher proposals remain.
“My suspicion is that a number of pieces of legislation will be introduced,” he said. “We will wait until it comes in and see who is introducing it and who is supporting it and plan a strategy to defeat it. There are a lot of bills and we have the chaos of the administration on top of everything else. DC is an interesting place to work these days if you’re involved with the government.”
On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump was expected to released details of a proposed federal budget with increased defense spending and cuts to multiple areas, including the Department of Education, which would take a $9 billion hit if approved.
Education has been a subject of contention in the early days of the Trump administration, with Michigan native Betsy DeVos narrowly winning approval as Secretary of Education while controversy swirled over her qualifications and support for a voucher system.
Cook hopes citizens will stay engaged and informed.
“If your interest is education, try to learn as much as you can about what is happening in Congress,” he said. “Contact the NEA, tell us what you think we should be doing, call your Congress people to find out what their opinions are. It’s important for people to learn about these issues and it’s hard to do, we all have lives, but if you have a keen interest, you can start by learning early about proposed bills.”