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Senate Panel Approves Choice Measures in Michigan

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Bills mandating intradistrict school choice and providing for tests of cross-district open enrollment are moving in the Michigan Senate.

Endorsed by Gov. John M. Engler, the two measures were approved by the Senate Education Committee late last month and were scheduled for floor consideration this week.

The choice bills were expected to meet stiff resistance on the floor, however, from allies of the Michigan Education Association and other education groups.

One bill, sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Lansing, amends the state school code to allow for choice within dis4tricts and requires local districts that operate more than one school to establish schools-of-choice planning committees by Oct. 1.

Two-thirds of the membership of the planning committees would have to be parents who are not employed by the district, with teachers, school officials, and business representatives accounting for the rest. The committees would be charged with developing by April 1, 1992, a plan to have open enrollment in place within their districts by the 1992-93 school year.

The measure stipulates that the open-enrollment plans must address requirements that the districts inform parents of their enrollment options, transport low-income students whose parents cannot afford to get them to different schools, abide by desegregation laws, and provide for random selection of students when too many apply to one school.

The other measure, sponsored by Senator Dan L. DeGrow, a Republican from Port Huron, would implement a request by the Governor to provide a total of $1 million in planning grants to establish pilot open-enrollment programs among local school systems within intermediate school districts.

The intermediate districts, which in Michigan generally consist of several districts within the same county, would be asked to set up two-year test projects beginning in the fall of 1992.

"We want to do a two-year study on what the pitfalls and successes are of choice among school districts," Senator DeGrow said.

But Senator James M. Berryman, a Democrat from Adrian and a member of the education panel, argued that the state should address funding inequities between districts before implementing choice plans.

"If we really want to experiment," Mr. Berryman said, "let's experiment with equity before we experiment with schools of choice."

Governor Engler had called for choice within local school districts during his campaign last fall. After taking office, he expanded his position to support open enrollment between districts. (See Education Week, Feb. 13, 1991.)

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