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Down on Charters

Gov. John Engler's effort to lift the cap on charter schools in Michigan has failed.

The Republican governor had hoped to make room for more of the independent public schools before the clock ran out on the 1999 session last week, but he was unable to muster the votes.

Without a change before the end of the year, it is unlikely that any of the backlog of 150 schools waiting for charters from Michigan universities will be able to open by next fall.

Mr. Engler's bill would have lifted the 150-school limit on university-chartered schools by allowing 50 more schools this year and 25 each year after.

Just before the lawmakers returned from their Thanksgiving recess, the governor tried to tamp down the charter school controversy by adding attractive new proposals to his bill, which had stalled in the House. Both chambers are controlled by his own party.

At a press conference in Lansing, Mr. Engler called for new charter schools to enroll violent and disruptive students, saying there was a crying need for such schools.

He also proposed granting charters to child-care centers that expand into primary education. Under the governor's plan, neither kind of school would have counted toward the state limit on charter schools.

At the heart of the proposal, though, was lifting the cap.

In the end, neither the enticements nor some horse-trading around an equally contentious proposal to outlaw residency requirements for employees of local governments got Mr. Engler the votes he needed. While the bill was passed once again in the Senate, Democrats and a handful of Republicans in the House remained opposed to it. Opponents say the existence of charter schools can hurt a district's regular public schools.

"In some school districts, there are enough students drained off into charter schools that they are having a negative impact on public schools," said Rep. Rose Bogardus, a Democrat and the vice chairwoman of the House education committee.

Legislative leaders have promised to take up the issue again in January.

"There are a lot of charter school folks and people interested in competition who are very upset by these folks [in the legislature], and they'll be working on them over the holiday," said John Truscott, a spokesman for Mr. Engler.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 19, Issue 16, Page 19

Published in Print: December 15, 1999, as State Journal

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