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Bill would allow more Michigan 'cyber' schools

By Tim Martin
Associated Press / October 27, 2011

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LANSING, Mich.—Michigan would allow more "cyber" charter schools under legislation narrowly approved Thursday by the Republican-led state Senate, one of many measures lawmakers are considering to expand public education options in the state.

The bill that would allow the opening of more online, virtual schools was passed by a 20-18 vote with six Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. The measure advances to the Republican-led House, along with other bills that would allow more high school/college dual enrollment options and opportunities for private school and home-schooled students to take classes in public schools.

State law currently allows two cyber charter schools, with a combined enrollment of about 1,400 this school year, to operate in Michigan. The legislation would lift the cap on the number of schools and enrollment.

The Michigan Chapter of the National Coalition for Public School Options says the state's cyber charter schools have long waiting lists and parents want more opportunities to enroll.

Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, said not allowing cyber school expansion would be going against a trend of using more technology in education and society. Pavlov supports offering families more choice in how and where they use public education systems.

"We open it up, we let parents and students decide," said Pavlov, chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Democrats opposing the bill said there is not enough data to support lifting the cap on the number of cyber schools. Opponents said lawmakers should wait for evidence the schools, which opened in 2010-11, are effective before authorizing more of them.

Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, cautioned against using cyber schools as a "cheap way of providing a second-rate service" instead of traditional building-based public schools.

In other bills, Republicans voted to expand options for students to enroll in college classes while they're still in high school. Some of those options would be expanded to private schools and home-schooled students.

Other bills advancing to the House would allow more options for private school and home-schooled students to take classes in public schools.

The House is considering a Senate-approved bill that would lift the cap on charter schools allowed in Michigan. And a bill that remains in a Senate committee would mandate that Michigan's public school districts participate in the state's "schools of choice" program, which allows students to enroll in schools outside of the districts where they live if space is available.

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The education policy bills passed Thursday include Senate Bills 619, 621-23 and 709-10.