Michigan districts make millions teaching home-schoolers karate and crafts

Oxford Academy

Oxford schools in northern Oakland County has created a “virtual academy” that caters to home-school students who take classes online and sometimes meet in a strip mall. The program had nearly 900 students in the 2018-19 school year, though fewer than 20 lived in the district. (Bridge photo by Mike WIlkinson)

Michigan is paying tens of millions of dollars each year for home-schoolers to take classes in dance, karate, ice skating and other electives that critics say not only lack academic rigor but often amount to taxpayer-subsidized private lessons.

State law allows public schools to offer elective classes to home-school students, which has led to an explosion of online academies operated by public school districts from Traverse City to southeast Michigan since 2010.

But vague and conflicting state regulations have led to accusations that districts are overbilling taxpayers for classes led by uncertified teachers on subjects like animal husbandry, sewing and woodwinds — lessons that for parents of children in most public schools would be a private expense.


Last year, the programs cost Michigan taxpayers $27.2 million for roughly 7,300 home-schoolers, up from $5 million and 1,500 students in 2011-12. 

State auditors are beginning to crack down and demand repayments from some districts. One of the most common complaints: Classes aren’t available to a district’s traditional brick-and-mortar students, as required by state law.

“This is about giving someone an unfair advantage,” said Paul Bodiya, chief financial officer of the Macomb Intermediate School District, which audited the Center Line schools’ home-school program and recommended a return of more than $3 million in state aid. 

“They’re gaming the system in a way that’s not even allowed.”

A 1984 state Supreme Court decision mandated that Michigan districts provide educational offerings to home-schoolers, but only in nonessential courses, not math or other subjects where state test scores are falling behind.

In the past decade, many districts struggling with stagnant state financing have created online academies that cater to home-schoolers, often to make a profit. 

Bridge Magazine obtained hundreds of pages and audits and records about the programs through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. 

The home-school classes, which operate from the Indiana border to the Upper Peninsula, typically work like this:

Students watch instruction videos for five hours a week at home, then meet an instructor in person for hands-on learning for one hour.  

Districts pay course instructors about $350 per child per course, then bill the state $1,200 for the class, keeping the profit.  For students who take four or five classes a semester, the total could reach as high as $6,000 for a full year for electives.

In contrast, all electives of a student in a traditional district — such as music, art and gym — would amount to about $1,300, or one-sixth of the roughly $8,000 per pupil a district gets. The rest would cover instruction in core classes like English, reading and math.

In the Niles Community Schools district in southwest Michigan, for instance, a home-school student took 10 such classes in the 2016-17 school year, including ice skating, voice, skiing and beginner horse care, according to a state audit of the program reviewed by Bridge.

Public school officials and advocates acknowledge the home-school programs were created to make a profit, but say it’s not only legal but helps districts in tough times.

Marsha Bahra

Marsha Bahra is former CEO and president of EdTech Specialists, a Traverse City-based consulting company that worked with districts to create online elective programs. She said recent audits from the state that scrutinize the programs have hurt districts and students. “There’s a lot of emotion in all of this and it shouldn’t be about the emotion."

“How can it be? Well, if the law allows, it can be,” said Marsha Bahra, the former CEO and president of EdTech Specialists, a Traverse City-based consulting company that worked with districts to create online elective programs.

Bahra said the programs grew to help students who don’t succeed in traditional classrooms.

“They needed a different experience,” she said. 

Bahra, who recently retired, said recent audits from the state of Michigan that scrutinize the programs have hurt districts and students.

“There’s a lot of emotion in all of this and it shouldn’t be about the emotion,  it should be about the students and it should be about the staff,” she told Bridge. “If we did something wrong, we didn’t do it intentionally, we weren’t trying to money-grab.”

‘Movie madness’ and ‘free running’

The Traverse City Area Public Schools created the Northern Michigan Partnership for home-school students in 2017, which was based in a school in Interlochen, about a dozen miles from downtown Traverse City. 

None of the district’s 11,000 traditional students took any of the classes; in fact auditors found there wasn’t a plan to transport those students to the program at the Interlochen facility.

Jan Geht

Jan Geht, a former member of the Traverse City school board, said he was surprised the district got paid for “non-real” classes. (Courtesy photo)

Jan Geht, a former member of the school board there, said he voted to approve the program despite serious misgivings.

“That was the purpose of the program, to generate profit,” Geht said, adding, “I couldn’t believe we would get paid to teach non-real topics.”

In Niles, home-school students took more than 400 piano classes, more than 350 dance, ballet or gymnastics classes and hundreds of lessons in basketball, soccer, ice skating and skiing in the 2016-17 school year.

As in Traverse City, the partnership classes were not available to traditional school students, auditors concluded, nor did the district have transportation plans to take students to them; some classes were well over 100 miles away.

Among the courses, according to documents reviewed by Bridge:

  •  A class on the “basic fundamentals of basketball” that met once a week for an hour. The actual course lasted eight weeks; in the remaining 10 weeks of the semester-long class, the instructor told students to “practice your skills on your own.”
  • A “movie madness” fine arts course that showed films each week, including “Mary Poppins” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” as students made crafts.
  • A course on martial arts, held in Elkhart, Indiana, that had a simple description: Every week students would “learn to kick and punch to defend themselves. Students will learn to evaluate the situation and then to do the appropriate action to stop the attack.”

The Macomb County district of Center Line offered similar courses, including one on “free running” in which students run, jump and climb through an obstacle course set up in a former warehouse.


‘Concerns have been raised’

The home-schooling programs are increasing as Michigan struggles with finances in a system that only allows them to add revenue by attracting more students.

That “incentivizes all types of educational entities to try to recruit children who would be  less expensive to teach,” said Dave Campbell, superintendent of the Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency. A national education group estimates virtual schools cost nearly 25 percent less to operate than traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

As a result, some districts have found students and boosted enrollments in untraditional places: supplying private schools  with teachers and extending kindergarten to two years.

Nearly 270 districts offer two years of kindergarten and 100 districts have teachers in non-public schools. Most of the home-school students are in programs run by 20 districts.

Oxford online

The home-schooling programs are increasing as Michigan struggles with finances in a system that allows them to add revenue only by attracting more students. (Bridge photo by Mike Wilkinson)

Combined, the three types of programs cost the state $260 million in 2018-19, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan that found the growth in those programs is “a hedge against declining enrollment pressures.” 

Though traditional public school enrollment is down 6 percent since 2011, it’s skyrocketed in the nontraditional programs, up 400 percent among home-school students.

The programs have grown so quickly that former state superintendent Brian Whitson warned districts in a 2017 memo to be careful as they developed “innovative” programs.

“Concerns have been raised regarding some home-school partnerships and shared time program class offerings,” Whitson wrote.

Craig Thiel, who wrote the Citizens Research Council report, said helping nontraditional students is laudable, but added “is there a profit motive mixed in? It certainly seems like it.” 

Tim Throne, superintendent of Oxford schools in northern Oakland County, doesn’t deny such a motive.

Last year, nearly 15 percent of Oxford’s student enrollment — and direct state aid — came from its home-school programs or online classes offered to private school students.

“Oxford has done this out of necessity, in order to survive,” he told Bridge.

Although it is located in a strip mall, the Oxford Virtual Academy resembles a traditional classroom. Students take classes online and then go in for further instruction. (Bridge photo by Mike Wilkinson)

That additional money, Throne said, helped pay for more counselors and no-cost extracurricular activities for the district’s traditional students.

But Bodiya, the Macomb Intermediate School District official, said the financial gains for districts like Oxford and Center Line come at the expense of other districts that also need more money.

“Right now in Michigan, we’re failing our students in all areas,” he said. 

“This money could be better used.  You spread it across all students [and] it doesn’t sound like a lot of money but every dollar counts.”

In contrast, the total amount of money Michigan spends on education is $13.2 billion.

State becomes critic

The state has reined in some of the programs amid questions about how much districts were reimbursed for home-school electives. 

Last year, the state ordered Traverse City schools to return roughly $700,000 for problems from the 2017-18 school year.

State auditors found:

  • The classes weren’t also being offered to traditional district students as required; 
  • The district often claimed far more class time than was provided;
  • Some of the classes were actually private lessons.

Combined, Michigan wants Niles and Center Line to repay at least $10 million to the state for similar findings. Each has appeals before Michael Rice, the state schools superintendent. It’s not clear when a decision could come.

Advocates defend the programs, saying they provide education to taxpayers who otherwise get no public help with their children’s home-schooling. 

And the programs are a bargain, advocates say. Rather than hire full-time teachers, the programs create online videos that can be reused over and over.

"Just because they’re home-school students doesn’t make them different,” said Rose Marie Zivkovich, a home-school parent of two children who ran the Northern Michigan Partnership for the Traverse City schools.

From a parent perspective, from an administrator perspective, it was a very positive program,” said Rose Marie Zivkovich, a home-school parent of two children who ran the Northern Michigan Partnership for the Traverse City schools.

“We [were] just trying to educate children here. Just because they’re home-school students doesn’t make them different.”

She acknowledged the Northern Michigan Partnership made a profit for the district. She said the goal was to send 17 percent of total income back to the district administration. But she said all schools in the district were expected to do so. 

She said the program wasn’t “perfect,” and understood how it might look to an outsider.

“I would be skeptical too,” she said.

But Zivkovich said the state’s audit findings were harsh.

“They’re changing the game two or three years down the road,” said Zivkovich, who now works with other home-school parents who volunteer to teach some of the same classes to their children.

Others disagree. Deyar Jamil, a Traverse City parent of two who has one child in the district’s schools, said it was clear from the beginning that money was the driving force. 

“The amount … that TCAPS was charging the state was ludicrous,” Jamil said. “What I took issue with is the way TCAPS was treating the program, as supplementary income to balance a budget that couldn’t be balanced.”

‘They have not changed the model’

The crackdown from the state hasn’t prompted substantial changes in other programs, contended Bodiya, the Macomb County Intermediate School District official.

Instead, districts operating home-school programs are “putting perfume on a pig,” tweaking some lessons and changing rules on how many electives students can take, but still operating to make money, he said.

 “They have not changed the model,” he said.

For instance, the Gull Lake school district in Kalamazoo County, which created one of the first home-school programs, still tells parents their children can take up to four electives a semester. 

In contrast, most traditional students typically take the equivalent of one full elective per semester.

In Center Line, Bodiya’s staff contends the program was created “with as minimal instruction as possible to maximize the revenue derived therefrom in a manner inconsistent with a legitimate, vested and rigorous educational program.”

‘Innovate and grow’

For the Oxford schools in northern Oakland County, the extra money from home-school programs has been a boon. 

It’s added more than 900 students to the district — one in six district students is non-public — and more than $7 million a year. The money not only funds the home-school academy, but allowed the district to add career counselors and mental health counselors at its traditional buildings, said Throne, the district’s superintendent.

And no student has to pay to play sports or participate in extracurricular activities like marching band or archery. The district provides all instruments – and the bow and arrows, he said.

“If athletics are important, how can you charge?” he asked. Roughly half of all Michigan districts charge athletes to play sports.

Throne said Oxford began the Oxford Virtual Academy because the district wasn’t as well funded as others in Oakland County.

Oxford has kept a close eye on the audits and rulings of other programs, district officials said, and it has not run afoul of auditors in Oakland County or the state.

The district gave Bridge a tour of its Oxford Virtual Academy, which is operated out of a strip mall but looks like a traditional classroom inside. 

It’s a beehive of activity, with teachers taking calls from students on lessons and others coming in for weekly classes.

Janet Schell, principal of the Oxford Virtual Academy, said the program is designed to be innovative and allow students to work at their own pace. The district acknowledged the program also brought needed revenue into the district — 15 percent of the district’s students are either homeschooled or in non-public schools. (Bridge photo by Mike Wilkinson)

Janet Schell, principal of the Oxford Virtual Academy, said the district makes sure to adhere to state rules, ensuring no class has fewer than three students, which would make it a private lesson, and stressing that in-person instruction is optional.

She showed a Bridge reporter an online course in agribusiness, which took students through a variety of topics. Students also would then have the option, she said, of going to a horse stable for a weekly ride and more instruction.

When asked how a student could learn karate if they did not attend the optional in-person class, Schell said the students could watch the videos, practice at home and then send a video of themselves to the teacher.

Currently, Oxford offers a wide range of classes, from study skills and art appreciation to  team hockey, music, mythology and folklore and culinary arts.   

“We chose to innovate and grow,” Schell said.

From Birch Run to Indiana 

Because the main content is online, the classes can be taken anywhere and districts have arranged the weekly in-person lessons across the state. 

In Niles schools, classes were held in and around the community, just north of the Indiana border, but also in Birch Run, more than 200 miles northeast of the district.

Many took place at facilities in Indiana, just south of Niles.

Niles declined to make its superintendent available for an interview with Bridge. A statement sent from a public relations firm said the district was working with other districts and the state to clarify rules.

“Niles Virtual School provides a high quality education to a variety of learners in a flexible, online environment. Niles Community Schools has carefully adhered to state policies in administering the program, and looks forward to continuing to do so,” Superintendent Dan Applegate said in the statement.

One of the Niles classes  — on animal husbandry — was offered at a horse farm in rural Kent County. The owner’s own children took classes there.

Doretta Anema raises Friesians, a breed of horse found in northern Holland, on her farm in rural Kent County. A mother of five, she has home-schooled them for years and they have taken classes through the Niles program.

A former educator, Anema said the courses are rigorous. She said her children excelled and she was particularly pleased with the oboe lessons one of her sons had with a member of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra that were paid by Niles, and, therefore, the state.

Like other home-school parents, Anema said she paid school taxes and didn’t get anything for them. 

Now she gets far less, she said, than if her children enrolled in the local Caledonia school district.

But over the last couple of years, she and her children have noticed changes. Two of her children are still in the Niles program and the district requires more from each student than it did before state auditors began raising questions.

Every week her daughter has to write a mini report on what she learned and send it to her teacher in Niles. There is more direction and more quizzes, Anema said.  

“They used to allow more open interaction,” she said.


Students at the Oxford Virtual Academy take classes online and then go in for further instruction. (Bridge photo by Mike Wilkinson)

Fallout from crackdown

Since Niles adopted the changes that required more documentation, enrollment dropped by nearly a third in the 2018-2019 academic year. 

There has been other fallout: Traverse City dropped its program and Center Line has scaled its back.

Eve Kaltz, superintendent of Center Line, said the program grew out of a desire to help all students and because home-school parents reached out to the district.

The program grew from a few dozen to more than 400 in 2017-18 as home-school students took classes in robotics, soccer and piano, among dozens of others.

But the Macomb Intermediate School District, which audits all districts in the county, took issue with the program. It alleged numerous violations, including poor documentation of student progress, overinflated claims, classes not offered to the other students in the district, and homeschool students taking too many elective classes.

All told, the district faces the loss of more than $3.2 million in state funding; the intermediate school district concluded it billed the state for 152 more students than were allowed in 2016-17; 220 in 2017-18, and 123 in 2018-19.

Although those rulings are being appealed, the district has shuttered its home-school program.  

“Which I grieve every day,” Kaltz said. “And I grieve because I think kids are missing opportunities because we made that switch.”

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Le Roy G. Barnett
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 8:44am

This is the kind of story or coverage you will only find from Bridge. Thanks for educating us on this matter.

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 9:04am

I don't want my tax dollars being used to subsidize home schooling.

Homeschool Parent
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 10:23am

You are entitled to that opinion. How does it pertain to this article and this situation, where your tax dollars are being used to subsidize your local public school district?

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 9:05am

Home school kids parents have the same rights as public school parents. Each get the 18 mil tax credit. Everyone pays the same taxes.

Homeschool Parent
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 9:08am

As a homeschool parent, I greatly appreciate Bridge addressing this topic. Paul Bodiya appears to be the voice of reason here. I concur with the statement that these programs were created “with as minimal instruction as possible to maximize the revenue derived therefrom in a manner inconsistent with a legitimate, vested and rigorous educational program.” Public school districts are utilizing these virtual academies and seat-time waivers to increase their revenue by increasing their market share (student enrollment). More state aid is thus directed to the districts for providing what, at best, are glorified private lessons in non-academic subjects. The academies, that often offer in-person service at a strip mall or local church, are at times supervised by parents (I.e. non-certified teachers). Some amount to nothing more than inexpensive day care, as families not only drop off their enrolled student(s) but also younger siblings who run amok unsupervised. Without any real statistics, only anecdotal evidence, I'd bet the house that homeschool students not utilizing public school academies are, in aggregate, performing better academically than homeschool students who do participate in these revenue mills. (A cynical person might say that in addition to the revenue generation the public schools also benefit by diluting the academic achievement of the homeschoolers that they entrap.)

It's important to remember that the homeschool families are not the ones at fault here. While most public schools are getting around $7500 per pupil, the homeschool families are receiving no financial aid from the state and are paying a public district for these non-academic services. Even if some districts allow homeschoolers to take such virtual classes for free, the state aid being generated by offering these classes is received by the public school districts - not the homeschool families.

Bodiya's most telling comment is, “Right now in Michigan, we’re failing our students in all areas." This is a much bigger topic to address but he's spot on. Why are public school districts losing market share as more and more families are choosing to homeschool? The answer is simple. Michigan's public schools are failing our children. If you want your children to be best prepared to succeed in this world you don't want to saddle them with a Michigan public school education. Michigan needs to focus on improving its public schools. Offer a worthwhile product and the students will return. Until then, allowing public school districts to profit from the systematic dumbing down of homeschool/non-traditional students is a travesty.

View From Kzoo
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 5:56pm

Homeschool Parent: you are spot on.

View From Kzoo
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 6:23pm

Homeschool Parent, you are spot on.

Kenneth Mitton
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 9:31am

While I think you are correct that some of these alternate schooling options have some questionable courses, you really did not review many of the very hard courses that some students take in these programs. They can include calculus, pre engineering and chemisty labs that are superior to 1st year chem labs at a state university. Also most homeschooled kids in Michican take few if any of these courses and are taught moatly by self organizations of their own parents, and they get ZERO funds from to do that. Its all out of pocket. Your statsof of over $7,000 per student "estimated" is a weak estimate to my mind, as if you add up student numbers in your own table by district and divide them into the total money from the same table then you get far smaller number than that. Also, we should emphasize that it is the State's duty to audit and correct what it spends and if they do not do that they will have some questionable expendatures. That can occur at brick and mortar schools too, especially all the failed charter schools the Bridge has been revealing too. Readers should also understand that parents who homeschool are not given a break from any taxes they pay and in reality most of their education related taxes are still going to fund the education of children in brick public schools with programs that are not made available to homeschooled children. Home schooled kids are typically blocked from taking say a calculus class at at public school. We know, we tried ourselves. While sports programs in public school are supposed to be available to homeschooled kids, in practice many schools do not facilitate that, but some do. Often they do say you have access but make extra rules that are designed to be legal but effectively block access. If your child wanyed do just do grade 12, last year in public school for example, you will be told they can enrol in those courses but they habe to go back to complete grade 9 to 11 in that school. We know. Another issue you have not touched on is that many of the virtual academies involved in your numbers were often created to provide education to many other students who where booted out of public schools and have no other access. Frankly I know of many children who were switched to homeschooling because of poor public schools with leaky buildings, no extracurricular programs, no librarians and no advanced science courses. Then there are the children who have been subjected to bullying or who have special needs that are not supplied by public schools even though legally they are to be provided, on paper. The reality is that Michigan has more homeschoolers per capita than almost any other state and some of those homeschooled kids are doctors, lawyers and engineers, journalists and architects. My own children now count in those catagories and contribute to this State's economy. Yes they were homeschooled. Their education completed up to University was about 80% home schooled coops (Moms that get no funds from State), 10 % courses run by public school districts at off campus sites (which often had regular high school students scattered in, often HS athletes who are working around sports schedules like US National competitions, at Olympic level), and 10% dual enrollment at community colleges which is an option used also by public highschool students in Michigan. So lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Ken Mitton, PhD
(Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences.)

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 9:47am

I personally don't want any of my tax dollars used for financing education in any charter school, private school or home school NOT governed by my local elected school board.

I have some control over my local school board: my votes; attendance at meetings; running for school board member seats; helping school board candidates I approve of get elected. I've no control over any school not governed by my local school board.

These completely out of local control schools suck money out of my local public school system, thus decreasing the quality of education in my local public school system.

We should insist that the State of Michigan not send any tax dollars to any school not governed by a local school board accountable to voters.

Homeschool Parent
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 10:20am

What "completely out of local control schools" are you referring to? How are they sucking money out of your local public school system? Did you read the article??? This is your local public school district sucking money *in* by utilizing virtual academies, all under the decision making of your local school board.

Local parent
Tue, 03/10/2020 - 5:56pm

I don't think you understand the article or didn't read it. Your local school is making money off the virtual schools. The decision made for these virtual schools is made by your local school board. Its the state that is loosing in this situation because the district charges the state for the students in these programs. The district gets to count them as "public school students" that attend in the district. In reality it has nothing to do with homeschoolers other then they are the ones attending and being included in the student counts. This is the districts finding a financial loop hole to get more funding and the state realizing they are on the loosing end of the "this cookie jar". The taxpayer isn't necessarily loosing out because we all pay state and local taxes to the schools, it sound more about who is getting the bigger piece of the cookie.

Kenneth Mitton
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 9:51am

The numbers in your own table come to $3,800 per student and that is just for those 6225 students. The state IS NOT spending $3,800 per every homeschooled student, of which there are many thousands more in this state. Even for those 6225 students that is far less than the state spends on children in standard public or charter schools. Also you over emphasize the craft course angle, which is not typical where kids can also take geometry, algebra, calculus and robotics and Java programming. You need more balance in this reporting too.

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 10:13am

Everybody pays the same taxes for school. The deal is that public schools are provided for you and we even have opened the boundaries so you can send your kids to any public schools you want as long as there’s room. But the trade off is that the schools are accountable to school boards, accreditation agencies, law enforcement, etc., to assure some standards for academic achievement and safety for students. Now the homeschoolers, charters, and private schools want to play it both ways: take taxpayer money and do whatever they want with it. They can offer all kinds of sports and electives for free, and teach that the Earth is flat, or that Protestants are going to hell, or that dinosaurs once frolicked with humans, or that vaccines do terrible things, all with YOUR taxpayer money. Nope, nope, and nope. You don’t get it both ways. Yes, everyone pays school taxes but that doesn’t mean you get to do take your share back and do whatever you want with it. Too much money in this state is being siphoned off to use for ‘education’ without accountability to the people who pay the money.

Homeschool Parent
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 12:09pm

Suggestion for you: read the article. Second suggestion: understand the article. The homeschoolers, et al are not playing it both ways. Your beloved public schools under the direction of your cherished public school boards are taking YOUR taxpayer money in this scheme. Read and understand.

View From Kzoo
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 5:49pm

AH: re your comment above: "they can teach that the Earth is flat, or that Protestants are going to hell, . . . .all with your taxpayer money." Well, the government schools take everyone's tax money to promote their politically correct (and that is an understatement) agenda, starting in elementary school. Why is one okay and the other is not?
Re: your comment: "you can send your kids to any public schools you want" -- this is not true choice. Thanks to Common Core this is no choice at all.

The Wiz
Tue, 03/03/2020 - 10:36am

Just more corporate welfare, the hypocritical Republicon government picking winners and losers with our tax dollars. Nothing to see here, folks.

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 11:39am

For every government benefit, there is someone, some where figuring out a way to scam it. The $27.2 million in this story is just the tip of the iceberg. Durable medical products are the biggest scam ever.

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 11:59am

Nice to see yellow journalism is still around. What a sensationalized and inaccurate "report".

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 4:53pm

Yellow journalism? Seriously? Although I consider Bridge slightly toward left of center it's certainly not yellow journalism to the likes of cnn or msnbs etc. There's a plethora of leftist drivel and propaganda available elsewhere if that's what you're seeking. I guess any site not loudly proclaiming "orange man bad!" and praising antifa is corrupt and yellow in your opinion? I think Bridge is one of the better sources for info on issues of what's happening in Michigan.

Fri, 03/06/2020 - 10:40am

I made that comment due to the number of factual errors in Mike's article, not to mention just the sensationalized headline. It has nothing to do with Trump or even politics in general. Mike just got a significant number of points dead wrong. That doesn't even take into consideration his starting premise--the idea that traditional brick and mortar schooling is some kind of ideal to be followed, and therefore classes like these are automatically "lesser". It's obvious to anyone watching education that the lecture model is simply not effective and schools need to turn to innovation and individualization.
Speaking of individualization, how messed up is it that he presents a case of a student learning the oboe from a true expert as some kind of negative? This kind of opportunity should be celebrated by anyone who actually cares about students' growth as humans and well rounded citizens.
His sloppy reporting extends to the "profit" side of things as well. Nowhere does he take into account the money that schools spent on teachers, admin, office staff or building expenses for these types of programs. All of that brings down the "profit" "extravagance" and whatever other slurs he tossed around.
In short, yellow journalism. Nice work Mike!

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 4:22pm

Excellent article. May we have more coverage in general on rapid, seemingly unchecked expansion of virtual schools in Michigan? A 2019 report from Stanford University found that cyber charter schools were producing subpar results for Pennsylvania students....what about students in Michigan? http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2020/02/online_charter_s...

Wed, 03/04/2020 - 11:37am

I am a huge proponent of public education and a former elementary school teacher. I also live in the Center Line school district. While I am not at all for education vouchers of any kind to fund homeschooling, I am not at all against what my district did here. With the rise of school of choice, her in metro-Detroit, public education is a competitive space. It is extremely difficult for a small district like ours to stay competitive with other, larger districts in this environment. So we found a way to continue to stay competitive and grow our funding that goes toward the education of our students in this environment that the government created. I understand if they realize there was a loophole that was taken advantage of by a few districts that outsmarted the system, but the only ones hurt by requiring such a large "repayment" are the students in the brick-and-mortar schools in the district. The lawmakers need to own the problem environment they created and change that, not punish the districts who are trying to stay afloat in such a problematic environment.

Independent Hom...
Thu, 03/05/2020 - 9:14am

Unfortunately the Bridge has failed to uncover certain important aspects and details. For the record, independent homeschoolers in MI have been waving this red flag and blowing the warning siren on this since 2010. These districts often lie to parents telling them they are still homeschooling when, by MI law, they probably aren't because MI law is clear that there is no money for homeschooling in MI. If they are registered in a public school in order to receive these funds, bare minimum they fall under exemption 3a requiring those homeschoolers to report to the state and either have a degree or claim religious exepmtion. Virtual academies are virtual public schools and those students are considered full time public school students and do not fall under the jurisdiction of MI homeschool law. The new private Hybrid academies teach core classes (with non-certified teachers) so those students also cannot be called homeschoolers because they have to register as public school students to take core classes. Shared time was meant for private and homeschooled students to go IN to a brick and mortar school classroom (or possibly a virtual public classroom) and take elective classes WITH public school students taught by PUBLIC school teachers. That is not what is happening here. I also want it on record that Independent home education is not involved in this mess.

Another Indepen...
Thu, 03/05/2020 - 6:20pm

Yes! We have been trying to sound the alarm but were mocked by other homeschoolers for not taking advantage of these great opportunities to get the State to pay for private piano lessons (offered in a church), horseback riding, swimming lessons, Ninja Warrior classes, etc. Why would we homeschoolers deprive our kids of these free fun extras we could get by signing up as part-time public schoolers?

It created a painful divide within the homeschool community, and those of us trying to speak out against it were basically told to shut up so we didn’t ruin everyone else’s ability to get “free lunch.”

Another Indepen...
Thu, 03/05/2020 - 6:20pm

Yes! We have been trying to sound the alarm but were mocked by other homeschoolers for not taking advantage of these great opportunities to get the State to pay for private piano lessons (offered in a church), horseback riding, swimming lessons, Ninja Warrior classes, etc. Why would we homeschoolers deprive our kids of these free fun extras we could get by signing up as part-time public schoolers?

It created a painful divide within the homeschool community, and those of us trying to speak out against it were basically told to shut up so we didn’t ruin everyone else’s ability to get “free lunch.”

Thu, 03/05/2020 - 8:43pm

Thank you for voicing this. Many of us are Independent and want nothing to do with any of this. We are firmly against receiving any form of funding from the state. You are right about what MI law states. HSLDA will not cover those who are involved with the Partnerships, and states that online public school IS public school (only at home and must follow state mandates) and does not qualify as homeschooling for their services. Those who home educate need to learn their homeschool history in this state with it’s hard won freedoms, and that those who hold the purse hold control.

Bob Hoff
Thu, 03/05/2020 - 3:47pm

The potential to game the system for profit is too large. Although there are benefits for students, I’m not sure that this program on this grand scale was the intention.

Another Homesch...
Thu, 03/05/2020 - 8:47pm

We happily pay taxes to fund the clearly stated failing public schools. We happily do not accept any government funded education or partnerships to keep our homeschool free of interference, thanks. We're proudly graduating our 4th well prepared for the real world child, paid for completely by us, the parents, and not because we're wealthy or have a trouble free life. Where there's a will, there's a way. Nothing has been, or will be in the future, a hand out in our homeschool.

Homeschool Parent
Tue, 03/10/2020 - 6:12pm

Beautifully stated. Thank you.

Tim Throne
Sat, 03/21/2020 - 3:21pm

The year was 2009; Mike Flanagan was the State Superintendent. He had challenged all districts in the state of Michigan to reimagine education. I had just completed my Executive MBA via a hybrid model in which I spent time online (reading, calculating problems, analyzing companies, submitting papers) as well as meeting in person at various locations throughout the U.S. every few months. During these face-to-face cohort sessions, we put into action what we had learned at warp speed and high intensity. It was a hybrid model of education that I had never experienced before, and I learned more effectively and efficiently than any other time in my life.

Thus began Oxford’s pursuit of a new model of education, whereby students not only learn new material but put into action their passions by impacting the world around them. It’s amazing how our world can change in just a short few weeks. Not unlike a decade ago of societal unrest and economic decline, Oxford and the State of Michigan must decide how we are going to respond. I want to set the record straight: Oxford is pursuing a competency-based personalized learning system through which we increase the effectiveness and efficiency of how we teach and learn. Please don’t insinuate that Oxford has broken any laws or is trying to skirt the system. We are providing the educational experience that our customers (ALL our students, parents, and our community members) desire and if they want something different, I am sure they will tell us.

The year is now 2020. Not unlike ten years ago, the best questions are, are we going to listen, and what are we going to do about it? I implore my fellow superintendents, state legislators, and the MDE: Lead, follow, or at a minimum, get out of the way. Oxford not only wants Michigan to be a top ten in ten, Oxford wants Michigan to be number one. As my dad often told me growing up, it’s better to shoot for the moon and miss than aim for the ditch and hit. Come on Michigan, we can do this!

Tim Throne
Oxford Community Schools

Public School T...
Mon, 03/23/2020 - 8:50am

Well said. Thank you.

Michigan Parent
Mon, 03/23/2020 - 4:05pm

I wish the article would have asked more questions. I would like to shed light on these two questions: 1) Why would these homeschool kids be allowed to take 4 elective classes? 2) Why does the district get more funding for these types of elective classes than a typical gym or music class in school? 1 - answer - In a homeschooling situation, kids are educated by their parents in the 4 core classes (math, history, ELA, science). This means that the parent is taking on the financial burden and time commitment to educate in these core subjects. This leaves more funding for this student to use to supplement this core with electives. In a traditional school, most of the funding has to go toward teachers and curriculum for these 4 core subjects. There is less funding left over for electives and less time in the school day as well. In a homeschooling situation, the student's funding can be used primarily for electives as the family is paying for the core classes. 2 - answer - The elective classes are paid at a higher rate because they are designed to represent a greater amount of instructional time. For example, a traditional school student might have music for 1 hour, once a week. A homeschool student may take a practical music class for 1 hour each week and then have work to complete activities at home, under parent supervision, such as listening to music, practicing on an instrument, coding a piece of written music, writing a summary of a music performance, watching a music video of a performance, etc. All of this represents more instructional time, and all of it is under the ultimate supervision of a certified teacher of record (TOR). The music class is basically team taught by the musician, parent, and TOR. This surrounds the student with an excellent amount of instruction, curriculum, and support. In this situation, the students make amazing progress in their pursuits. My kids have been in traditional school in the past. That model is over for our family. I don't want my kids to spend time in gym class every week. I want them to learn martial arts, play competitive soccer, attend dance classes. By bringing them home for learning, I have taken this unwanted gym class out of their schedule and I am now able to replace it with classes that suit each student's ability and interest and our particular goals as a family. Even though we are choosing a different model of education, my kids are still entitled to the tax money each child deserves in our state. It is true that drawing off this tax money for alternative programs may change education in traditional schools, but I think this change will be a good one. Traditional schools should exist for families that want them. Educational alternatives should exist for families that want them as well. There is enough funding for all of this to exist. I take issue with the conversation when it goes in the direction of my homeschool child taking funding from a traditional school child. The funding is for all students. Parents and local school boards should be able to decide how that funding is best used in a given area of our state. Furthermore, I don't think that all of the elective classes should have to be made available to all students in a district. As a homeschooling parent, I am willing to instruct the core classes at home, thus freeing up time and funding for my student to take interesting and varied elective classes. All parents have this option. For those parents that rely on traditional schools to educate their kids in the core classes, the elective classes necessarily reflect that choice. They are shorter in duration and typically happen onsite in the school building. This is trade off. Most parents can't or don't desire to educate students at home. Therefore, most of a traditional student's funding is being used to pay for the instruction in those core classes and there is not enough left over to pay for the offsite electives. This makes sense to me and I never questioned it when my kids were in traditional school. You can't have both. That said, the percentage of funding going to the district from my kids taking elective classes does help the district offer more elective options for seated students. It also helps the district to increase staff, build nicer buildings, pay for sports participation, equip classrooms with technology and other learning tools, etc. These things are a win for all students in the district. Stop thinking inside of the box and break it open to meet the needs of all families and types of learners. Leaving this in the hands of the local school boards as opposed to MDE bureaucrats is very important. Let's get on the same side of our kids. Don't let fear stop the progress in educational innovation.