K-12

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

KALAMAZOO – Gov. Rick Snyder is more forcefully countering what he calls "the big lie" in his re-election bid – charges that he cut $1 billion in education funding in 2011.

His opponent, Democrat Mark Schauer, isn't shying away from the claim.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new report gives Michigan failing grades for student academic progress.

During the last decade, Michigan’s fourth-graders lost ground in math and reading, according to a new report out today from Education Trust-Midwest.

Amber Arellano is with the trust. She says Michigan now ranks among the bottom five states in student academic progress.

She says the state must raise the bar for students and teachers.

Thomas Favre-Bulle / Flickr

The Michigan State Board of Education hopes public school funding will be a top priority for voters when they head to the polls in November.

The board on Tuesday kicked off a series of discussions meant to publicly critique the way the state pays for public education. The talks will continue at its monthly meetings until November.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is taking on "misinformation" over his record of funding public schools before putting forward his next budget.

Since the Republican governor took office, he says, state aid to K-12 districts is up an average of $660 per student. But House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel says the figure is "simply untrue."

Until a few years ago, the primary marker of school funding was Michigan's per-pupil grant. Now Michigan is picking up some of the ballooning retirement costs instead of including the money in districts' traditional aid.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Two in every three Michigan public school districts contract out at least one major service, like custodial, transportation or food service. That’s according to a yearly survey of districts.

The Midland-based research institute Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which supports privatizing services, has published the survey every year since 2003. Here’s a summary of the center’s survey:

School student in Japan reading a book outside
Mehan / Creative Commons

Lawmakers are working out the details of a proposal that would flunk Michigan students who can’t read at “proficient” levels by the end of the third grade.

Many in the education community are opposed to the legislation, including The Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers.

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies supports it.

Homeless camp
Nicole Salow / Flickr

The number of K-12 students in the U.S. without a home is on the rise.

More than 1.1 million children in the U.S. were homeless in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the Department of Education.

Suzi Parker at takepart.com looked at the numbers and found that Michigan has one of the fastest-growing homeless student populations in the country.

In Michigan, 43,418 students were homeless in the 2011-2012 school year, compared to 30,671 in the 2010-2011 school year:

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

On average, students under the state’s first fully privatized public school district are learning at a faster rate than under the old system. That’s according to data released Monday night by the charter company running the Muskegon Heights district.

Muskegon Heights schools’ emergency manager set up the charter system in the summer of 2012, when the existing district couldn’t afford to open. Highland Park Public Schools is under a similar arrangement.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor Area Schools is already campaigning to get students enrolled in the fall. That’s because the district hopes to dig out of a major budget deficit by attracting more students.

Benton Harbor schools narrowly avoided a state appointed emergency manager a couple of years ago.

Superintendent Leonard Seawood says since then, they’ve balanced the budget for two years in a row.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

With a little luck and another loan from the state, Muskegon Heights Public Schools’ Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon is predicting the district will pay of its debt the year 2041.

Don Weatherspoon told a small crowd gathered in the high school auditorium Monday night he hopes to hand local control back to the district’s elected school board in one year.

The Muskegon Heights school system has been fined nearly $100,000 by the Michigan Department of Education. The department launched the investigation after Michigan Radio reported the new Muskegon Heights charter school district had about 10% of teachers working without a valid teaching certificate or permit. It’s against state law to do that.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Juniors and seniors at Rockford High School will be able to earn up to 30 credit hours at Ferris State University for free in a pilot program announced today.

Say you’re taking calculus at Rockford High School, when you get to college, you could test out of calculus but you wouldn't get any credits.

The pilot program differs from dual enrollment programs.

If a student passes a single calculus class, it will count toward both their high school diploma and their college degree.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

There are plenty of adults talking about what should be done concerning education in Michigan. But an event in Grand Rapids gave students an opportunity to explain what they need from their schools.

Lynn Heemstra helped organize the event, called “KidSpeak.”

“It’s my belief that a lot of people that have legislative responsibility don’t really know the extent of what young people are dealing with in the their lives and what they’re receiving in the way of day to day educational opportunities,” Heemstra said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Bernard Taylor Jr. ran what’s now the state’s fifth-largest K-12 district for five years.

Eventually, Taylor and some members of the school board did not get along very well. By in the spring of 2011, it became clear Taylor was looking for a new job. He agreed to resign that summer and ended up signing a severance package.

But last month Taylor sued, claiming the district never paid him.  He calculated GRPS owed him $330,000 including lawyer’s fees.

A charter school in Muskegon County will have to repay the state close to $30,000 that, technically, the school shouldn’t have gotten in the first place.

The more students a school has the more money it receives from the state.

Barbara Stellard, who directed Waypoint Academy from 2002 to 2010, was charged in October with multiple criminal charges for reporting more students than actually attended the charter school.

Michigan Attorney General’s office spokeswoman Joy Yearout says another employee at Waypoint told tipped the state off to the scam.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Update: As of February 14th, these teachers have now obtained valid Michigan teaching certificates or permits.

Courtesy photo / Mosaica Education

The new Muskegon Heights charter school district is welcoming yet another principal at its high school. Carla Turner-Laws is the third principal so far this school year. Technically, her title is Interim Head of School/Instructional Specialist.

A couple dozen people sharing cookies and pink fruit punch welcomed Turner-Laws at a reception Wednesday night. Most were fellow co-workers, friends and family members.

The MHPS district’s state-appointed emergency manager turned the entire district over to a charter school company last June.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

About 200 administrators at Grand Rapids Public Schools are getting notice that they could potentially be laid off this summer. The school board voted Monday night to send out the notices, as part of a “transformation plan” it adopted in December.

Grading Michigan's first fully privatized public school district

Jan 8, 2013
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Last summer, Muskegon Heights became the first school district in the state to completely privatize its public school system.

In December 2011, after running a budget deficit for six years in a row, the school board requested the appointment of an emergency manager under the now-defunct Public Act 4.

Soon after his appointment in April 2012, emergency manager Don Weatherspoon laid off all of the district’s employees, created a new charter district, and appointed a new school board to run it.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Walk up to the new school inside the Blandford Nature Center and a flock of brown hens will quietly greet you. The hens are part of a business lesson about entrepreneurs at the Blandford School.

On Monday students and staff gathered to open the new school building paid for through mostly private funds.

Jennifer Brandstatter wipes tears from her cheek during the celebration. She moved her oldest of two daughters from a Catholic school to attend  6th grade at Blandford and she “loves it”.

“I just, I cry when I think about it. It’ just she’s having the best time of her life. The teachers are amazing. I mean it’s just such a unique experience,” Brandstatter explained.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This story is the third in a four-part series about how things are going so far in Michigan's first fully privatized public school district. Find part one here, part two here and part four here.

The decision to convert the Muskegon Heights Public School district into a charter school district was a financial one. But the officials who run the new system hope to improve academics too.

From the outside, Edgewood Elementary School looks and sounds the same as any other year.

But this year, Mosaica Education, the charter company that’s running the school, hopes a new curriculum, longer school day and year round classes will improve student success.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This story is the second in a four-part series about how things are going so far in Michigan's first fully privatized public school district. Find part one here, part three here, and part four here.

At least one in four teachers at the new Muskegon Heights school district have already quit the charter school this year. That’s after an emergency manager laid off all the former public school teachers in Muskegon Heights because he didn’t have enough money to open school in the fall. That means there have been a lot of new, adult faces in the district.

Students say the high teacher turnover has affected them and top school administrators say it has held back academic achievement this school year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights students are heading back to class today to begin the second half of what’s been a very turbulent school year.

This story is the first in a four-part series about how things are going so far in Michigan's first fully privatized public school district. Find part two here, part three here, and part four here.  

Old district “implodes” after years-long financial problems

The school board in Muskegon Heights battled a budget deficit for at least six years in a row. They gave up the fight a year ago and asked the state to just take over. 

“The system that was in place imploded,” said Don Weatherspoon, the guy the state eventually sent in late April to be the emergency manager.

"Enrollment went down, costs went up, they borrowed more than they could pay back; you’re on a collision course with disaster and that’s what happened," Weatherspoon explained. Student enrollment is a big factor in how much money a school district receives from the state.

“Everything that you can think of basically broke down. Discipline, learning, record-keeping, financial accounting, etc,” Weatherspoon said.

By May, Weatherspoon discovered the district is more than $16 million dollars in debt; so much debt it couldn’t afford to open school in the fall.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Over the summer Muskegon Heights schools’ then emergency manager laid off everybody who worked at the district and hired Mosaica Education to run operations for 5 years.

Muskegon Heights has some of the lowest performing schools in Michigan and is dealing with a multi-million dollar deficit. The state appointed manager says he had no other option but to privatize operations.

Three months in, one in four (20 of 80 total) of the newly hired teachers has quit.

“It’s confusing because I go from this learning process to this learning process to that learning process and it’s just ridiculous how some teachers leave and we have to start all over and learn something new,” Muskegon Heights High School senior Tony Harris said, “It’s just, it’s crazy.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

On Thursday night hundreds of parents and students got their first chance to respond to a "transformation plan" for the Grand Rapids Public School district. The plan unveiled Monday includes closing ten schools.

There was a lot of push back, even tears at times in the auditorium at Creston High School; the only high school slated to be shut down.

“Honestly, it feels like the board is giving up on us,” Creston High School freshman Toni Cortazar said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids Public School district would close 10 schools under a new “transformation plan” unveiled Monday night.

Over the past decade GRPS has lost 7,000 students; dropping it to the fifth largest district in the state. Along with the loss of students, Grand Rapids Public Schools has cut more than $100 million and closed 25 schools. But almost half its buildings are still way below capacity and the graduation rate is only 47-percent. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A political newcomer who’s challenging Democrat-turned-Republican State Representative Roy Schmidt says she’d work to get more funding for K-12 education.

Democrat Winnie Brinks is a case worker at a non-profit organization. At a very sparsely attended press conference (I was the only reporter there) Tuesday she said she's first and foremost as a mother whose main concern is her children’s public education.

Ali Moore / Wikimedia Commins

Schools around the county are considering digital textbooks as a more affordable and modern update to paper textbooks, and a West Michigan school district will pilot an "etextbook" program this year.

The Muskegon Chronicle reports Mona Shores Public Schools' students in select classes will receive their own computers to test how the etextbooks compare to traditional methods.

Brian Charles Watson / Wikimedia Commons

In this Saturday's Week in Review, Michigan Radio's Rina Miller speaks with Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about auto earnings, the new state model for measuring K-12 academic achievement, and the primary election coming up on Tuesday.

RM: U.S. car companies announce their profit statements this week. How are things looking, Jack?

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The school board for the new charter school system in Muskegon Heights will likely adopt a preliminary budget Monday.  

Muskegon Heights schools’ emergency manager hired a for-profit charter school company to run the public school system for the next five years.

An attorney for the school board says Mosaica Education drafted the budget the school board will consider approving Monday. It's likely the budget will be amended throughout the school year if needed.

Pages