These charter school parents voted for Whitmer. They’re not happy she vetoed their funding.

Two months after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a funding increase for charter schools, charter parents aren’t letting her forget it.

“I am going to keep beating that drum,” said Kellie McCline, whose fourth-grade daughter attends University Prep Science & Math Elementary, a charter school in Detroit. “I voted for Gov. Whitmer, and it was a slap in my face.”

As Whitmer and legislative leaders near a deal that would restore the charter funding, the governor is facing the ire of charter school parents in places like Detroit and Flint, Democratic strongholds where half of students attend charters.

“I voted for her, and now I feel like my child is different” from a student in a traditional school, said Sabrina Cristofaro, whose daughter attends Voyageur Academy in Detroit.

If the veto stays in place, charter schools across Michigan will lose out on the $240 per pupil funding increase that went to traditional schools across the state. The increase is small — just outpacing the rate of inflation — but it’s significant for schools already running on tight budgets. McCline’s daughter’s school would have received roughly an additional $120,000 this year, enough to hire two additional teachers.

As a candidate, Whitmer stayed away from explicitly anti-charter rhetoric. Her budget proposal would have brought even more funds to schools across the state, including charter schools.

But Republican lawmakers developed a budget of their own rather than raise taxes, as Whitmer had hoped. In response, Whitmer vetoed numerous parts of the legislature’s proposal, targeting programs, such as charter schools, that are important to the Michigan GOP.

Charter schools have already received two checks from the state that don’t include the additional funding.

“There’s outrage,” said Moneak Parker, executive director of Detroit Voice for School Choice, a charter advocacy group that focuses on parents. “When you paint a picture of how much money or how much their district would have received, they’re upset and they’re outraged.”

On Wednesday, a group of parents and school leaders planned to dramatize its effects by reading aloud outside Whitmer’s office in Lansing the last names of  thousands of charter school students.

The charter system has plenty of critics, who point to its lack of transparency and the proliferation of for-profit school operators. Some cheered Whitmer’s decision to axe its funding.

Sarah Williams, a former teacher, has her share of concerns about Michigan’s charter schools. She said she doesn’t approve of for-profit companies running schools, and she worries that success for the charter sector comes at the expense of traditional school districts.

But when her local traditional school in west Michigan wasn’t a good fit for one of her three children, Williams turned to an online charter school to make sure his education wasn’t interrupted. This turned out to be a good short-term solution, she said. And it gave her a different perspective on Whitmer’s veto. 

“If the governor and the state decide they want to rethink the charter school situation, then there needs to be a bigger conversation before you start cutting off support for those schools,” she said. “There are students in those schools.”