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El-Sayed says his education plan would "de-DeVos" Michigan schools

Jun 27, 2018

Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed has proposed a sweeping overhaul of Michigan’s public education systems that would increase school funding, provide universal early childhood education, and make college near tuition and debt-free for most students.

El-Sayed’s plan calls for increasing the state’s per-pupil foundation grant to school districts to $9,590 per student — about $2,000 more than Michigan currently provides, and more than a state "adequacy" study suggests as a baseline minimum. He also wants to re-work the larger school funding formula, providing extra dollars to low-income and special needs students, and rural districts with high transportation costs.

El-Sayed says Michigan also needs to “de-DeVos” education — a reference to how now-U.S. Education Secretary Betsey DeVos and her family have shaped the education landscape in Michigan over the past 20 years, promoting policies such as schools of choice and more charter schools.

Specifically, El-Sayed wants to overhaul how the state handles charter schools. He says he would propose legislation to outlaw for-profit charters, while giving those that currently exist a three-year window to transition to non-profit status.

“This is about creating an off-ramp for for-profit charter schools,” El-Sayed said. “I’m OK with non-profit charter schools, but I’m not OK with charter schools who literally pocket our money that we pay to educate our children.”

El-Sayed also wants to disempower the state’s current system of 14 charter school authorizers, consolidating them into one Charter Schools Council that operates under the state board of education.

El-Sayed also wants to create what he calls a “MIScholar” grant program. That program would cover the costs of college for students whose families earn less than $150,000 a year, minus any federal or institutional support a student receives, plus a small family contribution based on income.

Comprehensive early childhood education would be paid for through a family tax credit, though El-Sayed says the state also needs to find ways to provide more quality options than currently exist. He suggests financing his other education proposals through a combination of revenue-raising possibilities that include shrinking corporate subsidies and taxing online purchases.

“The money is there,” El-Sayed said. “The question is whether or not we want to spend it in the right way.”

El-Sayed faces two opponents, former State Senator Gretchen Whitmer and businessman Shri Thanedar, in the Democrats’ August primary.

El-Sayed says Whitmer’s education plan, which she outlined earlier this month, is not sweeping enough to meet the state’s urgent needs. He accused Thanedar of “not really having a plan” for education, though Thanedar has outlined a broad series of measures he would support—including, like El-Sayed, banning for-profit charter schools and re-working the state’s school funding formula.