News Release: Catholic Conference Urges Support for Education Reform Package

Legislation Reflects “Parents as Primary Educator’ Philosophy

September 28, 2011

(Lansing)—Parents are the primary educators of their children, and greater school choice options that are opened to parents and students will only lead to a more robust school system in the State of Michigan, Michigan Catholic Conference testified today before the Senate Education Committee in support of legislation that will expand the number of charter schools in Michigan, expand schools of choice, and make necessary revisions to dual enrollment and shared time policies.

“The legislation before the committee today would provide parents with greater opportunities to decide where and by whom their children are educated,” said Tom Hickson, Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy. “The result of these bills, if enacted, would be a more robust school system in Michigan that empowers parents and families. Michigan Catholic Conference applauds Senator Pavlov and especially Governor Snyder for proposing and advancing these necessary education reforms.”

Highlights of the education reform package of bills are:

“In 1976 the Michigan Legislature created shared-time services, which has since become a true community builder between Michigan’s public and non-public schools,” says Hickson. “Shared time has provided valuable instruction to children in nonpublic schools and is also beneficial for public schools and their ability to capture per pupil foundation dollars.”

Existing shared time policy allows for a nonpublic student to enroll in a nonessential, elective course at a local public school or public school academy, which may offer a course that is not available at the student’s nonpublic school. The public school’s nonessential elective courses that are offered to public school students must be offered to resident nonpublic school students or home schooled students upon request. Senate Bill 621 would expand shared time services beyond local public school boundaries to include the Intermediate School District (ISD) or a contiguous ISD, thereby creating more instructional opportunities for both public and nonpublic students.

On at least four occasions the United States Supreme Court and the Michigan Supreme Court have upheld the constitutionality of shared time policies. At the state level those cases include Clonlara v. State Board of Education; Snyder v. Charlotte Public Schools; and School District of Traverse City v. Attorney General. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the policy in Agostini v. Felton in 1997.

While the shared time policy benefits both public and nonpublic schools, existing dual enrollment policy has mandated nonpublic school students seeking a post-secondary education course to first enroll in a local public school prior to taking the advanced course of the student’s choice. The process of allowing students to dual enroll in secondary and post-secondary institutions was created with the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Act (P.A. 160 of 1996) and the Career and Technical Preparation Act (P.A. 258 of 2000). Senate Bills 622 and 623 defines a nonpublic student as eligible for dual enrollment, thereby eliminating the requirement for a public high school class.

“The dual enrollment bills simply eliminate the barrier for nonpublic students to dual enroll, and ensures that funding for the nonpublic student’s post-secondary class is distributed directly to the institution of higher education as opposed to the student or his or her parents,” Hickson said.

The Senate Education Committee is expected to take further testimony on Senate Bills 618-624 next week.

Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.

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