by Scott McClallen
Some Michigan parents may pay to drop off kids at daycare this fall in the same classroom kids would typically use for full-time in-person instruction.
Fraser Public Schools is offering virtual school with some small group, in-person learning options through Jan. 22, 2021.
But they will also reopen all six elementary schools as daycares for $175 per child, per week for parents working outside the home.
That’s $700 per month for full-time daycare, or over $3,000 through Jan. 22 – more than doubling the per-student funding from local taxpayers from the 2016-17 school year.
Corey DeAngelis, the director of school choice at the libertarian Reason Foundation, questioned schools double-charging taxpayers for a similar service.
“Why is it OK for the same school building to be open if you’re going to call it a daycare, but not a school?” Corey asked.
A spokesperson for Fraser Public Schools said its administrative team has been in meetings all day and cannot comment on the program.
“So now you’re paying two employees for the job of one, essentially,” DeAngelis said. “You’re paying the daycare person who’s willing to come into the building, and you’re still paying the teacher.
“The people who are getting the short end of the stick here are the families, obviously, because now they’re having to pay double for a service that was previously covered through what they were already paying in property taxes,” DeAngelis said.
DeAngelis argues this practice is unconstitutional because the state Constitution says, “The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law.”
Public schools charging for daycare but not holding in-person instruction should be an argument for school choice, DeAngelis argued, saying that if parents could take their property tax dollars to another institution, dissatisfied customers would leave.
But as it stands now, public schools have a minimal incentive to reopen in-person because they get taxpayer money either way, DeAngelis said, which is an outlier from other sectors.
“In other sectors, you can take your money elsewhere if the institution doesn’t provide you with meaningful services,” DeAngelis said. “If my Walmart doesn’t reopen, I can take my money to Trader Joes or Whole Foods. If your school doesn’t reopen, you’re kind of stuck, and now you’re in a situation where they’re reopening as daycares and then asking for more money.”
DeAngelis said private schools aren’t charging for daycare because parents can take their money elsewhere if dissatisfied.
“I would argue that’s similar to extortion,” DeAngelis said of public schools offering to reopen for daycare if parents pay $175 more per week.
The American Center for Law and Justice has challenged the legality of Arizona-based Gilbert Public Schools for charging $160 per week for daycare on top of taxpayer funding.
It’s unclear if they plan to challenge the program of Fraser Public Schools as well.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.