A Michigan judge's decision invalidating the state's establishment of "charter schools" has thrown the state's alternative-education movement into disarray. Ironically, the Christian school that was the focus of the lawsuit seems only to have gained strength from the turn of events.
"We now have more than 1,700 students, and we have had about 100 more requests for applications" in the wake of the November 1 ruling, said David Kallman, founder and legal counsel for the Noah Webster Academy, a charter school based in Ionia. The school, which has 15 teachers who operate from a central facility, links home-schooled children - most from Christian families - to a computer network.
Kallman created the Noah Webster Academy after a law adopted a year ago by the Michigan legislature allowed the establishment of "charter schools." Similar legislation has been passed in 10 states.
Under the Michigan law, each student enrolled in a charter school would take with him state funding roughly equal to that provided for other public-school students. Charter schools could develop their own governing boards, educational plans, and performance standards. They could be authorized by public school, community college, or public university boards of trustees.
The Michigan Education Association - joined by the American Civil Liberties Union - sued the academy and the state, seeking to void the law.
Richard McLellan, the attorney who represented the state in the suit, said the decision will be appealed and that charter-school advocates also would attempt quickly to write and pass new legislation that addresses the judge's misgivings. Kallman all along has assumed the case will wind up in the Michigan Supreme Court - if not the U.S. Supreme Court - in large part because it may have church-state implications.
Kallman structured his school from the beginning to depend on donations and volunteers. The judge's decision to hold up disbursement of $4.5 million to Noah Webster and seven other charter schools for the current school year has threatened the survival of some schools, financed with borrowed money.
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