Rural Education Matters Testifies Before House Education Committee in Lansing

By Scott Marshall

Jennifer Jarosz Testifies with the support of Scott

Marshall, John Brownfield, and Joe Roush (Not

Pictured) Several supporters from St. Helen are seen

in the audience in the background.

~Photos by David Buzzie

Members of Rural Education Matters traveled to Lansing on November 2nd to testify before the House Education Committee in favor of Senate Bill 618. REM Board President Jennifer Jarosz spoke to the representatives with a prepared speech that started out explaining what  the original issue was that brought REM together. Jarosz explained that when the local school district chose to close the elementary school in St. Helen that parents and community members were angry and felt slighted. Jarosz went on to explain that as the group began to educate themselves on educational options it became clear that the issue was much larger than just St. Helen.

Jarosz explained that schools are failing and that the numbers speak for themselves. She referred to the Roscommon School District for examples stating that the local elementary school now has over 500 students causing an over crowded classroom environment and over worked teachers. Jarosz stated that the middle school did not meet their Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) as defined by the No Child Left Behind initiative and that  the high school is only identifying 7% of their students as being college and career ready at graduation. Furthermore, Jarosz stated that the two districts that St. Helen shares has a combined average graduation rate of only 75%. Jarosz concluded her statistics by stating “Educationally we are already under served and it is only going to get worse if we do not provide opportunities for educational alternatives”.

Jarosz moved into explanations of the opportunities that charter schools can offer. Reference was made to a charter school in Lapeer, MI called Chatfield Public School Academy in which Jarosz shared some of the options in curriculum that can be more unique to the learning style of each individual child. She touched on Chatfield’s program called “No Child Left Inside” which allows children more hands on experience.

Jarosz shared some of the many hurdles encountered throughout the process including the fact that their is not funding sources in place for groups such as REM that are trying to secure facilities for a school. She noted that St. Helen has an empty school building sitting but the school district has made it clear that they have no intention of providing access to it.

Jarosz shared some of the process with the committee by first explaining that REM’s application for a state research and implementation grant received the highest score in the state. Applications were then submitted to authorizers including Central Michigan University, Ferris State, Grand Valley State, Saginaw Valley, Lake Superior, Northern Michigan University, Kirtland Community College, and the Roscommon Area School District. She noted that Grand Valley had advanced the application to phase 2 but then withdrew that advancement due to a limitation in authorizations the college could do.

Jarosz concluded that just because a couple of universities had not chosen to authorize their school that this would not deter the group. “Failure to bring a school to St. Helen is not an option”, acknowledged Jarosz. She urged the Committee to pass Senate Bill 618 and allow parents more opportunities for choice.

It was expected that the House Education Committee would vote on the bill the following week however the chair of the committee was recalled by his district. This left the committee without a chairman. Tom McMillin of the 45th district has since been appointed chair and the Committee is expected to resume discussion, amendments, and vote on the measure after their Thanksgiving Break.

The board members of Rural Education Matters encourage everyone to voice their opinion to the State Representative Bruce Rendon regarding the Parental Empowerment Package reflected by SB618. Rendon can be contacted by addressing letters to the State Capitol, Lansing, MI 48909-7514; calling toll-free at 1-888-DIST-103 (1-888-347-8103); or sending e-mail to brucerendon@house.mi.gov. Rural Education Matters holds a monthly meeting the first Thursday of each month at 7pm at the Richfield Township Hall. You can visit their website at www.rem123.com.

REM Members & Supporters pose with State Representative Bruce Rendon following their testimony.

REM Members & Supporters pose with State Representative Margaret O’Brien following their testimony.

Reprinted with permission by The FISH Newspaper December 2011 issue