Charter school study finds
support is solid
MSU report may play role in effort to lift current cap
By Sharon Terlep, Lansing State Journal, December 5, 2002
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EAST LANSING - Nearly three out of four of the state's
residents support charter schools, according to a Michigan
State University survey that comes at a critical time in the
contentious charter debate.
Republican state lawmakers are scrambling to pass a law before
year's end that would make way for more of the publicly funded
alternative schools in Michigan.
A bill to lift the cap on university-run charters fell five
votes short in the House on Tuesday, though supporters vow to
"We're not trying to sway the Legislature with this," said
David Plank, director of the Education Policy Center at MSU,
which conducted the independent survey released Wednesday.
"This doesn't say if (people) know a lot about charter schools
or whether charter schools are sufficiently accountable. It
just indicates that charter schools are an accepted part of
our educational system."
The survey found support for charters strongest among blacks
and adults with school-aged children. Only in the Upper
Peninsula did more people oppose charters than support them.
In the southwest region of Michigan, which includes the
Lansing area, about 72 percent supported charters.
The survey of 933 Michigan residents, which asked whether
respondents supported or opposed charter schools, was
conducted May 21 through July 16, with a margin of error of
plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. Researchers are still
preparing the results of the rest of the survey.
Charter supporters say the schools give parents and students
more academic choice and freedom and create competition that
forces public schools to improve.
Those opposed to lifting the cap - now at 150 on
university-chartered schools - say the schools lack proper
oversight and haven't been proven to offer a better education.
Michigan's 188 charter schools enroll about 170,000 students.
Public support might help pressure lawmakers lift the cap,
said political analyst Bill Rustem, vice president of
Lansing's Public Sector Consultants.
And it could make a difference if the bill doesn't pass this
year and comes up in the 2003-04 session after Gov. John
Engler leaves office.
Engler supports lifting the cap. Democratic Gov.-elect
Jennifer Granholm thinks the existing system needs more
"But really the bigger impact will be what the governor does
and what (House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy) does," Rustem
said. "It wouldn't be unprecedented for it to come up again
and be passed yet this year."
Dec. 13 is the last scheduled day of the legislative session.
If passed, the legislation would increase the number of
schools that universities can open - the most common route.
School districts, intermediate school districts and community
colleges also can charter schools.
Universities could open 10 more charters a year through 2007
under the bill. Another 15 charters aimed at specific groups
of students, such as students with disabilities, could be
opened each year between 2003 and 2007. Then, 10 more schools
could open every year through 2017.
The legislation also gives the Department of Education new
oversight powers over charters and requires the schools to
advertise to attract special education students.
The additions are based on recommendations made earlier this
year by a commission headed by Michigan State University
President Peter McPherson.
"I don't know that there's anything we can add to this that
won't be giving up too much one way or the other," said Rep.
Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, who sponsored the bill.
With six Republicans opposed to lifting the cap, supporters
need Democrats to get the 56-vote majority needed to pass the
bill. No Democrats voted in favor of the bill Tuesday.
Support won't come easily, said House Minority Leader Buzz
Thomas, D-Detroit. He said many Democrats are worried there's
not enough measures in place to protect public schools,
particularly in Detroit's struggling system.
"I recognize my constituents are going to charter schools,"
Thomas said. "I don't think I should fully stand in the way of
that, but I don't want to advocate for unchecked expansion."
In Lansing, about 2,000 students are enrolled in charters -
nearly 10 percent of the city's students. The first of the
region's 10 charters debuted in 1994. The newest opened in
But while charter school enrollment statewide is up more than
25 percent in two years, head counts at Lansing's charters
dipped 5 percent in the same period, according to the Michigan
Association of Public School Academies.
Improvements in Lansing's traditional public schools and a
decision to downsize at one of the city's largest charters are
the primary reasons. Seven of the area's 10 charters have
Still, the numbers could be a sign Lansing's market is
saturated and wouldn't see more charters under a higher cap.
William Crenshaw wants more charters so parents can have the
experience his four children have had at the Michigan Early
Childhood and Elementary Center in Lansing.
"It's a more controlled environment and the administration has
a tighter hold on the behavior," said Crenshaw, of Lansing,
whose children are in preschool through fourth grade at the
"They're getting plenty of attention."
Contact Sharon Terlep at 377-1066 or
Key findings of survey
83 percent of people ages 30-49, who are most likely to
have school-age children, support charter schools.
75 percent of blacks support charter schools, compared with 71
percent of whites.
79 percent of parents with children younger than 18 support
Republicans and independents are more likely to favor charter
schools than Democrats. The
survey of 933 Michigan residents was conducted May¨›21 through
July 16, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2
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