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Posted on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

GOP-backed cyber schools legislation passes 56-54 in Michigan House

By Ryan J. Stanton

A controversial bill allowing more cyber schools in Michigan passed in the state House of Representatives on Thursday by a two-vote margin.

The Republican-backed legislation, Senate Bill 619, was approved 56-54. Democrats decried the decision, saying it will divert money from traditional public schools.

The bill now heads back to the Senate with changes.


Jeff Irwin

"It's diverting and pulling money out of our classrooms and into the pockets of these for-profit owners that run these cyber schools," said state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor.

"And these cyber schools have proven they aren't doing a very good job in all the other states they're operating in, so it's pretty appalling the Republicans are doubling down on this gamble."

The GOP sees the issue differently.

Ari Adler, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger, said the expansion of charter schools is good news for Michigan families.

"It means increased opportunities for students and parents to make a choice that works for them," he said. "It is based on experience in other states."

Adler said the Republicans don't anticipate there's going to be a flood of students moving to cyber schools.

"But for those who need it, it's very important," he said.

Rep. Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Township, voted for the legislation, saying it will empower Michigan parents and children by expanding virtual learning. He said he supported the measure after amendments were added to increase oversight and protect traditional public schools.

"This reform bill harnesses 21st century technology to empower students and their parents," he said in a statement. "The measure gives Michigan families quality options for their children's education without adversely affecting our public schools."

According to a House Fiscal Agency analysis, the bill eliminates a two-contract limit on the number of cyber school contracts that can be issued under the state's "schools of excellence" program. It increases the total to 15 until Dec. 31, 2013, then to 30 cyber schools thereafter.

In 2009, the Michigan Legislature authorized the creation of a new kind of charter school called a "school of excellence." The new category was intended to attract 10 high-quality charter school operators to educate at-risk and urban high school-aged students.

Under the 2009 law, two of the 10 contracts could be cyber schools.

The legislation was amended by the House on Thursday so that the Department of Education will review the program in the first year, Adler said.

Also, in the first year there can't be more enrollment in cyber schools than 1 percent of the state's student population, Adler said. That goes up to 2 percent in the second year.

Opponents of the legislation fear the loss of students in traditional public schools and subsequent drop in funding will exacerbate school financial problems.

Taken together with K-12 budget cuts and charter school expansion, Irwin said the Republicans have widened their assault on public education.

"By their actions today, the Republican's proved that their goal is to privatize education, not improve school quality," Irwin said. "Cyber teachers are not the same as real teachers and cyber schools shouldn't replace real schools."

Adler said the idea that cyber schools are inadequate compared to traditional public schools is simply not true, and the GOP doesn't share the concerns about school funding.

"We have a system in this state where the funding follows the student, and we're looking at the way count days are handled," he said.

"We don't focus first on funding," he added. "We focus first on what's best for the students and their education. A lot of people who are opposed to change in the system are concerned about money for adults, and we're more concerned about learning for students."

Full-time cyber schools exist in at least 27 states, frequently taking the form of online charter schools. Different from established public schools offering online supplemental programs, the cyber school market in the U.S. is dominated by six large companies.

At least one of the companies — the largest one called K12 Inc., which is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange — offers an array of programs in different states.

The legislative analysis of SB 619 points to the National Education Policy Center's finding that little or no research is available on the outcomes of full-time virtual schools.

In contrast, it says partial or blended approaches to virtual education, having existed longer, have been studied extensively and generally demonstrate student achievement results equal to those earned by students in more traditional classrooms.

Beginning in the 2010-11 school year, two cyber schools were approved to begin operations in Michigan: Connections Academy, located in Okemos and authorized by Ferris State University; and Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, based in Grand Rapids and authorized by Grand Valley State University. During that first year of operation, the two cyber schools drew students from 228 school districts and charter schools.

According to committee testimony, Michigan Connections has a significant waiting list, because 3,800 students applied for admission in its first year of operation.

The second cyber school, Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, also has a waiting list, having enrolled 860 students, including 207 in the high school grades.

In its first year of operation, 67 percent of third graders at Michigan Virtual Charter Academy met the state's reading requirement as measured by the MEAP, and only 9.1 percent of its high school students were proficient on the Michigan Merit Exam, the HFA analysis states.

The HFA analysis found that by eliminating or lessening a number of restrictions on cyber schools, SB 619 is likely to result in an increase in state School Aid Fund expenditures as the number of cyber charter schools proliferates and the enrollment in cyber schools rises.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


David Myers

Wed, May 2, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

Don't be Confused with Similar Names. I actually want to thank you for your post, even though it mistakenly cites Michigan Virtual University as offering very high student to teacher ratios. This response gives me the opportunity to clarify that the Michigan Virtual ACADEMY, a for-profit cyber school chartered by Grand Valley State University, is often confused with Michigan Virtual University, a non-profit company that has operated the Michigan Virtual School that was created by the state through Public Act 230 of 2000. Michigan Virtual School provides thousands of enrollments through partnerships with local school districts and parents. Our class size for the instructor-led courses parallel what is often that of our local school partners. Our regular courses, we refer to them as MVS Plus courses, have class limit of 30 students and we sometimes add a student or two when there is not enough for two sections. This is the same approach used by our school district partners. Please be aware that the Michigan Virtual Academy is not connected with Michigan Virtual University or Michigan Virtual School.

Michael Barbour

Mon, Apr 30, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

This bill was all about removing restrictions to allow these two companies (and many others) to continue to reap profits from Michigan taxpayers. The original cyber charter school law called for a review of the performance of the two cyber charters schools at the end of two years of operation, and for decisions about expansion and future directions to be made based on that data. If you look at how the two existing schools have performed in their first two years (see ), you'll see why they didn't want decisions to be made based on the data. That's why they couldn't wait the few months for this school year to end because the performance of students in their programs are so poor that there would have been no case for expansion whatsoever. Take the Michigan Cyber Academy for example, where students meeting proficiency on the 2011 MEAP exams were less than the statewide average in 13 of 15 categories! This is all about Republican legislators passing legislation to weaken their opponents and allow their campaign contributors to make more money from Michigan taxpayers! It has nothing to do with providing a quality education for students!

Susie Q

Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

This has nothing to do with the MEA.....this has to do with enabling for-profit entities opening a "cyber-school" that promises parents and children a "quality" education, when, in fact, there will be little or no oversight of these businesses. If there are more cyber-schools and charters (already passed), they should have been held to the same scrutiny as their public counterparts. This is shameful. There ARE already many options for students who cannot attend or don't want to attend a brick and mortar school and more have been available with each passing year. Mr Ouimet has voted for every conservative cause after campaigning as a "business Man". I, too, am very disappointed in Gov Snyder, who claims to be "data-driven"......why no data required of these new cyber-schools. I frequently see comments from folks who don't want their tax dollars lining the pockets of the "union fat cats". Well, I am not eager to have my tax dollars line the pocket of convicted Wall Street insider trader, Michael Milken, who owns the nation's largest cyber-school to the detriment of Michigan's children.

Peggy Serritella Boggs

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 7:39 p.m.

"Cyber teachers are not the same as real teachers and cyber schools shouldn't replace real schools." As a twenty year veteran public and private school teacher I am offended by this comment. I am a licensed teaching professional in Michigan and am very good at what I do. To say I am less of a teacher because I am part of a virtual school environment is ignorant and misinformed. The MEA does a grave disservice to all teachers by diminishing the ones who aren't part of their union. And people wonder why teachers get such a bad rap.


Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 6:26 p.m.

Peggy, Does it cost the same to cyber teach a child as it does to teach in a Public School or charter school, who have "brick and mortar" expenses? How often do your buses run? How do you handle free and reduced lunches? What are your costs for Special Ed services? How many parapros do you have on staff? Oh yeah, that would be none... You are a great teacher, I am sure, but please don't try comparing cyberschools to traditional schools...My complaint is that your cyberschool gets the same foundation grant per student as my neighborhood brick and mortar school, with much less expense on your side.


Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 12:55 p.m.

My children have taken a number of on-line course for various reasons, including both advanced and remedial. The supporting teachers for the courses have been AT LEAST as good as the teachers in AAPS. I want to thank you for your service to the children Ms. Boggs!


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 7:28 p.m.

I am concerned about the lack of a social setting, something that is vital to a child's development. However, what concerns me more is the lack of knowledge on the issue. The state should have allocated resources to thoroughly investigate this measure to be sure that it does not diminish a child's development academically and socially. Instead our republican lead legislature passed something they don't fully understand which happens to be controlled by a few large companies who control this business venture with seemingly little oversight. I smell a lobbyist and dollar bills behind this, and not the best interests of children.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

It seems to me that our current Lansing politicians (Republican majority across the board) who are making decisions and passing things with no oversight and checks and balances against the will of the people and our best interests (like not approving the recall EFM petition that had double the required amount of signatures - listen to WE the people - not your corporate cronies) are doing their best to dismantle public everything from education to the way we govern our local jurisdictions. So Betty S, don't start complaining when you no longer have that teaching job and remember, you voted for Ouimet.


Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

dogpaddle - They had 40,000 extra signatures. They needed almost 200,000. So, I think 40/200 is less than double. But then my math may be messed up. After all I did graduate from a Michigan High School.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

I see this as a continued attempt to destroy FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education). I don't believe there is any interest in saving public education. Parents and teachers don't seem to have the strength anymore to fight politicians whose only interest is to serve their loyal lobbyist.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, Apr 29, 2012 : 2:07 a.m.

After what has happened to community-governed public schools over the last decade, can you really still pretend that the MEA is the most influential group in Lansing? Not even close.


Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

The strongest political loyalty in Michigan has been to the MEA lobbyists over the years. In my family's case, it took enrolling my kid in the Michigan Virtual High School cyber-school to achieve FAPE, because some of the high school teachers refused to implement appropriate accommodations in his IEP.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

It would also have been nice to know how much money the for-profit companies that operate these cyber schools have donated to which state legislators.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, Apr 29, 2012 : 2:05 a.m.

I invite you to dig the numbers out yourself, DonBee. But remember this: the firms I mention have few interests in Michigan legislation besides the rules on cyber charters (and testing, in the case of Pearson, who has the contract for a lot of that work). They are pretty much single-issue focused, so their dollars are more concentrated. And, let's see, NEA as a national organization doesn't lobby at the state level; MESSA is a VEBA and isn't in this game. All contributions to candidates are still limited in Michigan, even after Citizens United. How about GLEP? MI Chamber? There is plenty of money flowing on that side as well. So you may suspect that the numbers "pale in comparison," but I challenge you to prove it.


Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

Now Mr. Norton - How much has the MEA, AAEA, NEA, MESSA and the other teachers union associated groups (local, state and national) spent lobbying? How much did they contribute to various candidate's running for state office (we will not worry about what they contributed to local elections or federal elections). What is that number? I suspect that the numbers you quoted pale in comparison.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 12:12 a.m.

Lobbying expenditures in MI: K12, Inc: $112,826 (2008-11); nearly $30,000 each of last two years Connections Education: $47,314 (2009-11); over $26K last year Michigan Virtual Univ.: $307K last 11 yrs; $36K+ last year alone Pearson Education (now owns Connections): $18K each of last 3 yrs From a cursory search. And this is just what gets declared as lobbying expenditures....


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

One interesting thing about cyber schools is where the money goes. In public schools, for the most part, the money goes to teachers, custodians, administrators -- it stays local, in other words. In cyber schools, much more money goes to software developers and laptop manufacturers -- it leaves town, in other words.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, Apr 29, 2012 : 2 a.m.

We're not talking about online or blended programs from established local institutions. We're talking about fully online charter schools. There are only a few players in that market, the biggest of which are K12, Inc (based in Virginia) and Connections Education, now a part of international media giant Pearson. K12 and Connections run the two existing "pilot" cyber charters in Michigan. Pilot no more, because this legislation removing limits on cyber schools beats out the report due later this year from the MDE about the success and finances of these schools.


Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

dotdash - A number of those software developers are here in Washtenaw county. There are 4 or 5 courseware firms here that employ some pretty sharp people. Several universities also develop courses in the state for K-12. Not all of it leaves the state. Right now there are at least 3 Universities in the state developing teacher courses as well.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 12:07 a.m.

"Mike K" - you mean the $5 million the CEO of K12 Inc. was paid last year? Or why the firm's high profit margins helped make it a hot growth stock - at least until an investigative report about the firm's schools in Pennsylvania and Colorado last December put a chink in the stock price? All fed with tax dollars supposedly spent on education? Yeah, that sounds good.

Mike K

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

Do you mean the it goes to good paying middle class private sector jobs? I see why don't like the idea now.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

Why is that man smiling?


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

Of course the Democrats are against it. It means less money for the MEA and therefore less money for the Democrats.

Wake Up A2

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 9:56 a.m.

The current student to teacher ratio at the states largest online school - Michigan Virtual University is 350 to 1. Parents complain about about 33 to 1, try more then ten times that. So you home school folks and complainers go get it...... Yes they have no unions, because unions keep the class size down.

Michael K.

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 6:19 a.m.

I thought Snyder was a businessman? To me that means one thing: Data Driven Decisions! We need to see numbers, results, evaluate these tools in the real world before we open up the for-profit flow of cash that will ensure entrenched special interests spend tons of money to manipulate the conversation and publish only self serving statistics. We have already seen that charter schools at BEST almost equal existing public schools on test scores. A 9% proficiency rating? Come on .... I have an MBA in Information Systems Management. I'm a big believer in computer based training - I helped pioneer distance learning at our company in 1996. But it has to be an integrated program that includes a human presence, a core team focused on the whole person's development, and delivered within a rigorous curriculum. We can't afford to play games and take risks with thousands of students lives. They only get 1 shot - and they need to trust us! Snyder and Quimet are failing by being party hacks, not real thinkers. Nothing different here from business as usual.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 2:29 a.m.

Here I am looking at the graduation rates and literacy in the Detroit Public School system. Here I am looking at the choices children have for classes in small rural districts. Here I am looking at children who are confined to wheelchairs or have other severe physical disabilities. Here I am looking at a child suspected for a year. Here I am looking at the comments in AnnArbor.Com. Cyber schools should not be for everyone. Cyber schools should have ratings and evaluations - Just like EVERY school in the state. Cyber schools offer hope and alternatives for children and families that may not have one. Cyber schools offer alternate learning methods for some children who might need them. We don't know what we don't know about Cyber schools yet, but how much worse are they likely to be that the average DPS school? We need to fix education in Michigan. If your children are in AAPS, feel lucky, because you don't have any real worries. If your children are in DPS, you probably feel hopeless. Maybe Cyber schools can help fix the hopeless. It is worth the try.

Rob Pollard

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 1:17 a.m.

I encourage those interested in learning more about "cyber" schools to read this recent special report from the AZ Republic, In short, the data is not there to show these schools are worth the investment. Perhaps they will be, but if the Michigan House's own report for this bill states " little or no research is available on the outcomes of full-time virtual schools." why is their a rush to expand them? Why not get some evidence on the two schools that were literally JUST opened, and have them report back in 2-3 years and see how they did, and what tweaks (if any) need to be made before either further expanding the options or perhaps scrapping it? This will cause more funding and more management complications for the Michigan school system with no clear idea if it will benefit Michigan as a whole. Sad.

Ivor Ivorsen

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 12:54 a.m.

Dog Guy, Basic Bob, Xmo, The critical skills our students will need to be successful in a modern workplace cannot be dowloaded to a laptop or gained staring at screen in a bedroom in the wee hours of the night. A recent survey conducted by the American Management Association (see link below) found that the top three skills employers desired in prospective employees were: communication skills (80.4%), critical thinking (72.4%) and the ability to collaborate (71.2%). Online courses do not build these skills.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 11:58 p.m.

If cyber schools were good instructional settings, every private school in the country would have one. But they don't. They have small classrooms, expert teachers, and hands-on learning. Cyber schools are ways to save money, pure and simple. Which is fine if that is your goal; you just have to know what you are getting.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 1:43 a.m.

Well, several elite private schools, such as Stanford, Brown and MIT have sponsored cyber-schools for gifted students for about 2 decades now. My kids have made use of these classes for one or two subject acceleration, because AAPS would not or could not provide the necessary curriculum at their "challenge" level.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 11:47 p.m.

Is the official campaign team for this guy? He gets a ridiculous amount of publicity. Why don't you say he's a Democrat polictical hack receiving large donations from the teachers union? If our public schools were so good why would anyone want to leave them? The answer to that question is obvious!


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

In order for our state to move ahead and be successful, we need to offer our children multiple options in public education to optimize their potential. The MEA and the Democrats in Lansing are comfortable with the status quo and refuse to look at different ways to educate our children. They seem to forget that they were in the majority in the last two administrations and are a large part of today's problems due to their lack of fiscal responsiblity and foresight. Fortunately, the current administration has vision and is looking to improve the way we educate our children. It is sad that the Democrats in Lansing lack this vision.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 12:32 a.m.

"...They seem to forget that they were in the majority in the last two administrations and are a large part of today's problems due to their lack of fiscal responsiblity and foresight..." I'm guessing that you don't know that the Republicans have controlled the Michigan Senate since 1983. I'm also guessing that you don't know that the Republicans controlled the Michigan House from 1995-97 and from 1999-2007. So Democrats were not "in the majority in the last two administrations ." During Granholm's 8 years, Democrats controlled the House for 4 years and the Senate for 0 years. During Engler's 12 years, Democrats controlled the House for 6 years and the Senate for 0 years. So the "lack of fiscal responsiblity and foresight" that you lament was in large part the result of decisions made by Republicans in the Senate and House.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 11:13 p.m.

I met with Mark Ouimet before the vote to discuss concerns with the bill. Mark said he was concerned about why a cyber school with no "bricks and mortar" would get the same foundation allowance as a traditional school with expenses. I guess, after all, he didn't really care. Guess he fooled me. His vote passed this bill, I hope my vote is the one that denies his reelection.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 10:38 p.m.

Great. Just what Michigan needs, more younger people who are completely socially inept, incapable of navigating a group situation and functioning in the presence of other people. I guess the bright spot in all this is that people who actually learned to talk to others face to face, accommodate various viewpoints and function in changing and challenging atmospheres will be in hot demand in the workplace.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 10:29 p.m.

I am "PRO-CHOICE", Now parents and children have a choice, Cyber schools are the future. It looks like we will have to bring those Democrats and Regressives along kicking and screaming into the new cyber education era. I am surprised that the Democrats let students use computers at schools since they are sooo conservative about education!


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 10:05 p.m.

Im sorry - real sorry - honestly, totally sorry - to say this ---- the republican legislature in this state has demonstrated, at least to me, a total disregard for anyone and everyone who is not the elite 1%. They seem intent on separating the classes further by lessening more and more the quality of public "common man" education. Sad sad sad, so so sad. :( So obvious.

Mike K

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 12:09 a.m.

So the children that may be served best by an online education are the elite 1%. I know it is a liberal talking point (pointing out "who" is "what" %), but it is terribly misapplied in this case.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 9:55 p.m.

Gross. This legislature sucks. There was a clear timeline in which to evaluate these so-called cyber "schools," and then decide how they were doing. This legislation just ignores that (evaluate? Why!?), and lifts the cap. Morons.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 9:41 p.m.

I have been a teacher for more than 20 years in Washtenaw County. It always interests me why any new option to teach our children is viewed as so threatening to the MEA and the Democratic Party they so heartily support. Our children never learn the same way or in the same situations. The GOP is right to give parents this new option. I have voted for many Democrats in my lifetime but I believe my vote will be for the Republicans in my district. Mark Ouimet will get my vote this November.

Ivor Ivorsen

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 1:04 a.m.

BettyS, As a teacher you will surely appreciate the myriad of skills and social habits that students aquire in a classroom setting that will serve them into the future: the ability to collaborate, work in teams and groups, and function in diverse settings. These skills and abilities cannot be downloaded to an Ipad. This is not about unions or Democrats.

Mike K

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 12:07 a.m.

Leaguebus - if the money is for education, it is for education. Simple, but profoud..... One mustn't worry about the governmental-educational complex, but instead think of the students.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

If these online schools wouldn't siphon money from the already cash strapped public schools, fine. But this is not the case.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

I will be voting for Mark Ouimet again; he is giving parents and children more options for the way they learn best and where they learn best; traditional schools are not always the best option for every single student; unfortunately, the MEA is never flexible and is always thinking about their membership and rarely about the students; thanks Mark for giving our kids a choice for their education!

Basic Bob

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

This will give an option to kids who break the rules and get caught. They don't have union backing.

John Spelling

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 9:05 p.m.

Most local school districts, especially AAPS, have pretty much all the resources necessary to offer Cyber schools themselves. If this sort of program was best for my child, think I'd choose being affiliated with a public rather than a private program. Public Schools - Adapt or Die.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 9 p.m.

I am a Republican who will not be voting for Mark Ouimet again. Teachers are important to the overall development of our young people and that type of mentoring, as well as education, cannot be provided by these virtual schools. This is not what is best for our kids. You will not get more employable, educated or well-balanced people from this decision. Changes need to be made to our education system, but the ones they are attempting to make are not the ones that will benefit society.


Sun, Apr 29, 2012 : 12:55 a.m.

Mark caved in to the GOP leaders.

Dog Guy

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 8:48 p.m.

Sound the alarm! Children are escaping from our MEA indoctrination centers. Indict their parents. Ceaselessly chant the official mantra: "For-profit For-profit For-profit".