History of Michigan For Public Education
(Formerly the Michigan Public Education Task Force)

The Michigan Public Education Task Force (MPETF) was formed as a loose coalition in 1994 as an activist arm of the Council About Parochiaid (CAP) in response to the perceived threat of a pro-voucher statewide campaign. Patrice (Trish) Elms, President of CAP and also representing the Michigan Women’s Assembly, was the group’s first leader. Trish was followed by Robert Docking, and then by Francile (Fran) Anderson, former State PTA President, who has continued as leader of the Task Force and is presently Chair of the recently renamed Michigan For Public Education (MFPE).

Over the years, the Task Force has engaged in several public expressions of support for public education. On November 15, 1995, a press conference was held at the PTA office in Lansing. After receiving approval from their boards of directors, twenty-nine member organizations agreed in writing to the following guiding benchmark for school reform legislation, to be sent to all members of the legislature:

Public education funds must be used only for public schools.

  • Any school operating with public funds must be accountable to the public.
  • The same legislative policies and rules that apply to public schools must also apply to public school academies and charter schools.
  • School reform must be based on accurate information and unbiased data.

In January, 1996, the Task Force became autonomous and was no longer a part of Council About Parochiaid (CAP). A Speakers Bureau was formed, and the availability of speakers was publicized as widely as possible among community groups, such as Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Older Persons Centers, and public library discussion groups. In February, 1997, an informational brochure entitled, Why Are Our Schools Under Attack? was printed by one of the coalition member organizations. Copies were distributed throughout the state, with instructions to duplicate the brochures, and share them with others. The brochures contained some of the common myths used to disparage public education, such as, “Public schools in the U.S. are failures.” The erroneous statements were followed by specific facts that refuted the myths.

The Task Force has had many guest speakers of renown in the educational community in the state of Michigan. Among them are: Herb Moyer from the State Board of Education speaking on “What’s Right With Public Education?”; Kathleen Straus, President of the State Board of Education speaking on “Public Funds for Public Schools”; Russ Bellant author of The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, on the influence of special interest groups on decisions made about public education; Nelson Maylone, professor in the School of Education at Eastern Michigan University, who has published his research on the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP); and Don Wotruba, Director, Legislative Affairs, Michigan Association of School Boards, who gave a presentation on School Finance Overview.

In April, 1998, an informational brochure entitled Vouchers/Tuition Tax Credits: Why They Don’t Work, was published by MPETF. Copies of the brochure were distributed widely throughout the state in an effort to educate the public about the dangers inherent in the proposed voucher plan. In 1999-2000, the MPETF focused its attention on support of ALL Kids First! in order to oppose the November 2000 ballot proposal to change Michigan’s constitution to allow public monies to be used for private and parochial schools. The Task Force coalition was instrumental in informing members of the organizations affiliated with MPETF about the voucher issue in a variety of ways: through organizational publications, distributing anti-voucher brochures, and speaking to community groups. In addition, organizations and individuals were encouraged to support ALL Kids First! through efforts to raise funds for the campaign. When Proposal 1 was soundly defeated in November, 2000, it was a victory for MPETF, as well as the other broad-based, grassroots, statewide organizations that spearheaded the anti-voucher movement. In 2001, the Task Force looked at what makes a “good” school, and explored ways to get this information out to the media and school districts across the state. Some members testified at the state senate education hearings in February.

In April, 2002, Charter Schools in Michigan: The Report of the Commission on Charter Schools to the Michigan Legislature, was published. The subject of the proliferation of charter schools has been an ongoing concern for MPETF, particularly the issue of accountability. In 1993, a revision of the funding of public education was instituted by the Michigan legislature, following the adoption of Proposal A. Each student enrolled in a public school was entitled to a “foundation allowance” used by the public school to provide for the students’ education. At about the same time, the legislature also began developing laws to permit choice within the public school system. Both inter-district choice and charter schools are elements of the legislatively mandated school choice. In addition, magnet schools and other programs have added to the choices parents and students can make within the public school system. According to the aforementioned Charter Schools in Michigan Report, “The number of students in charter schools has grown to 64,510, or about 3 percent of the K-12 students. There is a significant concentration of charter school students in urban areas, but charter schools are distributed geographically throughout Michigan.” For more information about this report, go to the website.

In 2003, the Task Force focused on promoting and supporting public education by concentrating on three major areas of concern. They were:

  • Charter school oversight and accountability led by Mary Wood who has done extensive research into the private managers of charter schools and the fees obtained by Central Michigan University as administrator of charter schools.
  • The issues related to the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that included a videotape on standardized testing presented by the Fair Test Organization.
  • The pitfalls of The Reading First Program as a mandated method of reading instruction, presented by Connie Weaver, professor of English at Western Michigan University.

In 2004, the issues of charter school accountability and the impact of increased testing as part of the requirements for No Child Left Behind continued to dominate the attention of the Task Force. The number of charter schools chartered by universities has reached the cap set by the state legislature. Bay Mills, a community college operated by Native Americans, has a statewide jurisdiction, and is therefore, in the process of chartering a number of schools throughout the state. Many of the charter schools are managed by for-profit management companies, which raise the following concerns:

  • What is the quality of education provided by charter schools?
  • Where is the financial accountability for the use of public funds?
  • Where is the public disclosure of the administration of the private management companies?
  • What is the impact on revenues that would otherwise be going to public school districts?

In September, 2004, several members of the MPETF made formal presentations to the State Board of Education outlining the concerns of the Task Force, particularly the lack of accountability and oversight of Public School Academies. In the spring of 2005, a decision was made to restructure MPETF by creating and approving a Constitution and Bylaws. A Board of Directors was elected, consisting of an Executive Committee and four At-Large Directors. The Executive Committee includes the Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. Fran Anderson was the first elected Chair of the reformed organization. As an outgrowth of her MPETF involvement, in 2005, Mary Wood established an organization called Michigan Alliance For Charter School Reform (MACSR), and became its Executive Director. MACSR has a website which was formed for the purpose of raising public awareness about the lack of accountability and oversight given to charter schools by their local boards, by the authorizers of charter schools, and by the Department of Education.

In February 2007, the Task Force chose to rename the organization Michigan For Public Education (MFPE). Although sharing the goals and beliefs of the former Task Force, MFPE was deemed a more appropriate name for the group as it moved to increase its membership and continue its support of public education in Michigan.