Split Senate votes to let charter schools get regional taxes
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Charter schools would receive revenue from voter-approved property tax hikes under legislation a divided Michigan Senate approved Wednesday, as Democrats accused majority Republicans of “stealing” from traditional schools.
Voters in six intermediate — or county-wide — school districts have approved the so-called enhancement millages. They include Wayne and Kent — two of the largest counties in the state — along with Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Monroe and Midland.
The taxes collected go to the counties’ traditional school districts on a per-student basis, on top of their state funding. The GOP-controlled Senate voted 23-14, mostly along party lines, to also let charter academies — which are publicly funded — get a share of the extra local funding.
The bill does not explicitly state when charters could begin qualifying for the revenue. But the sponsor, Republican Sen. Dave Hildenbrand of Lowell, said they would only benefit when existing millages are renewed or new millages are approved.
Democratic Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing characterized the legislation as “stealing, plain and simple — stealing from our public schools and stealing from the will of the people.” He said charters would profit while not facing transportation costs, other expenses and accountability standards that confront traditional districts.
But Hildenbrand accused Hertel of “lying.”
He said he introduced the bill because more than 14,000 charter school students in Kent County and more than 56,000 charter school students in Wayne County “are not being treated fairly.” Kent voters approved their 10-year millage in May. Wayne voters OK’d a six-year millage last November, when Kalamazoo County voters renewed their millage for another three years.
“Let me be clear about my intentions,” Hildenbrand said. “They are to support our students and families throughout our public school system and to bring more fairness and equity to local tax resources that get spread around our state and our local school buildings.”
The legislation was sent to the GOP-led House for consideration next.
In an analysis of the bill dated Wednesday, the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency said there are questions on when charter schools would receive their payments. It said it is “likely” they could get them whenever the tax revenue is distributed next — not years down the line. The taxes are levied in July or December.
Hildenbrand, however, reiterated that his intent is for charters to only get the funds after the county-wide taxes are renewed or if a new one is passed. The existing millages, he said, clearly told voters the revenue would go to traditional districts.
The legislation would have the biggest impact in Wayne and Kent counties. Wayne districts now receiving $376 per pupil would get $287 once charters are added. In Kent, a $212 per-student grant would drop to $183.
Senate Bill 574: http://bit.ly/2kZS4Ta