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Education
1:37 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Governor Snyder denies making choice to replace Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager

Governor Rick Snyder, (R) Michigan
(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Snyder insists he has not chosen a replacement for Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. Bobb’s contract to oversee Detroit’s troubled school district expires in June. A Detroit TV station reported Snyder had made his choice to replace Bobb. But the governor insists he has not. 

 "We’re still looking at candidates, both locally and nationally, and we’re going through that process.  My preference would be to find somebody from southeastern Michigan that has the right skill sets and such.”

The Detroit Public School District is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red and its latest MEAP test scores were mixed.

Education
12:29 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Statewide MEAP scores released today

Standardized test
Casey Serin Flickr

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) released the standardized test scores for schools across the state today. Students in grades 3 through 9 took the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test last fall.

Scores improved significantly in math, but remain flat in reading. The Detroit News highlighted the improvement in math scores:

Since 2005, scores have improved markedly in mathematics...In 2005, only 59.6 percent of seventh graders were proficient in math; that number has soared to 84.6 percent.

Improvement in reading scores, however, have remained flat. From the Detroit Free Press

Even though large numbers of students passed the exam, the percentage was down in 2010 from 2009 and showed little movement over the last six years. For example, the pass rate for third-graders dipped from 90% to 87%, while the pass rate for seventh-graders declined from 82% to 79%.

Some experts caution against making too much of the reading results. Elizabeth Birr Moje, with the University of Michigan's School of Education said, “schools are not necessarily neglecting literacy instruction. If anything, I see much greater attention than ever before.” Moje told the Free Press that the dip in this year's reading results could be 'anomalous.'

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Environment
12:27 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Conservationists celebrate more than $100 million in state grants

Dunes near Saugatuck and Lake Michigan.
Norm Hoekstra Creative Commons

Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill authorizing more than $102 million in grant money for more than 100 recreation projects and land acquisitions across the state. Michigan Radio’s Lindsey Smith reports one of the largest grants will preserve dune-land along the Lake Michigan shore.

Peter Homeyer is executive director of The Land Conservancy of West Michigan.

“West Michigan and a lot of communities around the state are going to see projects now that are going to add to parkland and improve parks right close to home where folks can get out and enjoy nature with this new bill.

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Arts/Culture
12:26 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Prisoner art show

"Count Time" by Alan Norberg

More than three-hundred works of art are on display at the University of Michigan by artists who are incarcerated prisoners. Independent producer and U of M professor of art Stephanie Rowden visited prisons in Michigan and spoke with several incarcerated artists. She has this audio postcard about why the artists make art and what it means to be a part of the show.

The show is called The Sixteenth Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners and it is part of The Prison Creative Arts Project. The artwork is not only on display but it’s also for sale.  The show is at the Duderstadt Center Gallery at The University of Michigan until April 6th.

Environment
11:59 am
Thu March 31, 2011

State health officials down playing detection of radiation from Japanese nuclear crisis

(Tim Van Gorp)

State health officials insist the public does not have to worry that a radioactive isotope linked to the Japanese nuclear crisis has been detected in a routine air sample taken on Monday in Lansing.  

Kelly Neibel is the acting spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. 

 “There’s absolutely no reason for people to be concerned about this.  The levels detected are very minute and they pose no health threat to people.”  

The state routinely tests air samples taken near Michigan’s three nuclear reactors. The last unusual reading was recorded after the Chernobyl accident in the mid-1980s. Neibel downplays the potential health effects of the isotope from the Japanese nuclear crisis to people living in Michigan.  

"All of us are exposed to radiation every day.   Some of that’s from natural sources…to manmade sources…like medical x-rays.”

Radioactive isotopes linked to the Japanese nuclear crisis have been reported in many other U.S. states. 

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Environment
11:36 am
Thu March 31, 2011

New debate over Detroit's incinerator

The Detroit incinerator
Photo courtesy of Flickr user tEdGuY49

Detroit is home to one of the world’s largest incinerators. That facility burns around 800,000 tons of trash every year.

The issue has sparked passionate conflict in Detroit for more than 20 years. And a recent public hearing—on whether to give the incinerator’s new owners tax credits—showed that conflict is just as intense as ever.

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Commentary
11:19 am
Thu March 31, 2011

Thought Police

Several listeners have asked me why I haven’t commented on the battle over collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin.  Well, there’s a good reason for that.

Which is, that we’ve got more than enough in Michigan to wrestle with to keep us all occupied. That doesn’t mean, as one of my devoted admirers e-mailed me, that I am a “gutless wonder.”

Matter of fact, I would like to get an inch or two off my gut. Seriously, I have a hard time accepting that anyone should lose their collective bargaining rights in America, no matter who their employer.

But I have an even harder time with anyone trying to suppress anybody’s freedom of expression in any way.

Which brings me to a very ominous development I first read about on the political blog Talking Points Memo, a story which involves Michigan and the Wisconsin mess.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Midland-based think tank best known for supporting free-market economics, is asking, under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, for all the emails by labor studies professors at our state’s three major public universities -- Michigan State, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State. 

All the e-mails, that is, that these professors have sent regarding the union strike in Wisconsin, that state’s governor, and, oddly enough, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Why are they asking for these e-mails? The managing editor of the Mackinac Center’s newsletter wouldn’t say. But some fear the center wants to use them to attack liberal professors for using state resources for what could be called improper political activity.

That, or cow them into not expressing their points of view.

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Politics
10:08 am
Thu March 31, 2011

Is the State Supreme Court a flip-flopper?

The Michigan State Supreme Court attracts attention for overruling its own older decisions
jeffness Wikimedia Commons

Politicians don’t like to flip flop. Going back on what they said before can be a big political headache. 

The U.S. Supreme Court also takes flip flopping very seriously. The last time they overturned a decision was in 2003.

By comparison, the Michigan Supreme Court has flip-flopped a lot. Somewhere around thirty-eight times in the past decade.

All this flip flopping means that court keeps changing the law. One reason for the flip flops is because the judges on the court keep changing. Between elections and appointments there can be a lot of turnover on the bench. And new judges don’t necessarily agree with those who came before them.

Robert Sedler is a court watcher who says ideology is causing the back and forth on the Court. And he says things got bad about a decade ago. He teaches law at Wayne State University Law School.

"Around 1998 there were a series of appointments by former Governor Engler who were very ideological in their views. The majority took the position that, if they believed  cases were wrongly decided, they were going to overrule those cases."

Conservative majorities, like the one appointed by Engler, aren’t the only ones overturning old decisions. In 2010 there was a more moderate court, and they also overturned cases.

Take marajuana, for example. In 2006 the court saw all marijuana use the same, it was illegal. Four years later the new court saw more nuance and interpreted the law in ways that impacts medical marijuana use.

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News Roundup
8:53 am
Thu March 31, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, March 31st
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder to Deliver Progress Report

Governor Snyder plans to deliver a progress report on his first 90 days in office later this morning in Lansing. Lt. Governor Brian Calley, state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, and state House Speaker Jase Bolger will join him. It’s expected the Republican leaders will address their plans for the state’s budget. The Governor has previously asked the legislature to balance the state’s budget for the next fiscal year by May 31st.

Dems to Propose Reinstating Jobless Benefits

Two Democratic state lawmakers are preparing legislation that would restore cuts to unemployment benefits. On Monday, Governor Snyder signed legislation to extend federal jobless benefits this year by 20 weeks, but the bill also contained a provision reducing state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks for new filers beginning in 2012.

Michigan Court Rules Against CAFO Operators

Large factory farms have lost a major court case in the Michigan Court of Appeals, Steve Carmody reports. The case involves farming operations, called Confined Animal Feeding Operations (or CAFOs), with hundreds, sometimes thousands of animals. Carmody reports:

The appellate court upheld a lower court ruling that the state could require large confined animal feeding operations to get pollution discharge permits before opening. Farm groups challenged the state rule insisting they should only need a permit after releasing manure causing water pollution.  But today, the three judge panel disagreed:

“We conclude that the DEQ was fully authorized to require CAFOs to either (1) seek and obtain an (federal) permit (irrespective of whether they actually discharge pollutants), or (2) satisfactorily demonstrate that they have no potential to discharge.  The circuit court  properly denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary disposition and granted summary disposition in favor of the DEQ.”

Reorganization in the Detroit Public School System

Thousands of kids in the Detroit Public Schools system could see their school close or become a charter school next fall, Sarah Hulett reports. Yesterday, DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb laid out his reorganization plan. As Hulett explains, the plan calls for:

… closing seven schools this summer and one next summer. Another 18 schools will close by the fall unless a charter school operator can be identified to run them. And 27 more schools will be offered for conversion to charter schools, but will remain open otherwise…The list of 32 schools is fewer than half the troubled school district will have to close or convert to charters to erase a $327 million dollar deficit.

Politics
6:54 am
Thu March 31, 2011

Rep. Miller expected to introduce bill to secure U.S. borders

US/Canadian border in the Detroit/Windsor tunnel
Fritzmb Flickr

U.S. Representative Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township) is expected to introduce a bill today that would order the Department of Homeland Security to create a plan to secure 100 percent of the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, the Detroit News reports. From the News:

A draft copy of the bill, the Secure Border Act of 2011, was obtained Wednesday by The Detroit News. It would require DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and her agency, within 180 days of its passage, to identify how to bring the northern and southern borders under full "operational control" — meaning authorities have clear ways of patrolling and controlling passage over a border — within five years.

Achieving full operational control of the borders would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more, if current projections are any indication.

Among the potential solutions are increased levels of fencing and boosted patrols on the southern border, while the U.S.-Canada border would be a prime candidate for a beefed-up Coast Guard presence in the Great Lakes, watch towers like those deployed along the St. Clair River and unmanned aerial drones in use in states like Arizona.

Both borders are far below that 100 percent goal. Forty-four percent of the U.S.-Mexican border is estimated to be under operational control; the U.S.-Canadian border is less than 2 percent controlled.

Rep. Miller chairs the Subcommittee on Maritime and Border Security in the U.S. House of Representatives.

State Legislature
6:35 am
Thu March 31, 2011

The debate over social issues during a budget crunch

Captiol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Thetoad Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants controversial social questions to take a back seat to taxes and job-creation. He says to do otherwise could create intense debates that enflame passions and sideline his efforts to fix Michigan’s economy.

But that has not stopped some of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. They say GOP control of state government makes this the moment to tackle controversies surrounding abortion, gun control, illegal immigration, and medical marijuana.

Governor Rick Snyder meets up with his inner nerd every morning as he checks an electronic application that reminds him how much time is left before the budget deadline he set for the Legislature—May 31st.:

 “All I have to do is turn on my iPad and it shows me how many days and hours are left, and how many seconds…”

Snyder says he is singularly focused on completing the budget before that time on his iPad runs out. He has proposed massive cuts and tax reforms that would affect the budget. He says right now that should be the focus of everyone’s energy at the state Capitol. He’s finding some people – including Republicans – disagree. State Senator Rick Jones is one of those Republicans:

 “My job is looking at other issues that concern Michiganders."

Jones says the Legislature is working very hard on Snyder’s budget proposals and goals. But he says that does not mean lawmakers cannot and should not also work on social issues. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he recently took up and voted on a controversial abortion bill that is already covered by federal law. And he sponsored a measure that would add rules to the use of medical marijuana. Jones:

“The issues we take up, are issues where I could walk into any coffee shop in my district and the vast majority agree that it’s something we need to address."

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Politics
5:34 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Snyder and Republican leadership to outline progress on budget tomorrow

Governor Rick Snyder outlining his plans in his State of the State address last January.
Michigan House Republicans

Governor Rick Snyder will join House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville at a press conference tomorrow.

They plan to outline the progress they’ve made closing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

But it may be a little awkward, because Snyder still has not reached a deal with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville on his plan for major tax reforms.

Snyder says he hopes the Legislature adopts his plan to tax pensions, and eliminate the business tax in favor of a corporate income tax on profits, but he says he is not pushing his plan too hard just yet.

"Well I’m not leaning on anyone," said Snyder. "I’m having a positive discussion, as I always like to have, about how we can work best together. And I think good partnership opportunities there, and we’re going to continue that dialogue. We’re making positive progress."

A House panel is debating tax plans similar to what Governor Snyder wants.

Leaders in the state Senate are talking about alternatives to Snyder’s plan.

So far, the budget plans include salary restraints on public employees and requiring them to pay more for their benefits.

Some lawmakers say members of the Legislature should take pay cuts and pay more of their benefits too.

But Governor Snyder is staying out of those salary debates.

"Well, we’re three branches of government, and I look at it as they take an opportunity for leadership in an area that affects them. We have more than enough to do in the executive branch."

Snyder has been criticized for paying salaries as large as $250,000 to some of his cabinet members.

Snyder is a self-made millionaire who takes an annual government salary of one dollar.

Education
5:04 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Explosive growth at community colleges likely to slow this fall

Many comunity colleges in Michigan saw a significant jump in student enrollment in the fall of 2009.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Michigan community colleges have seen double-digit growth and record numbers of students in the last couple years. But many community colleges expect that trend to slow down, or even stop, this year.

Muskegon Community College’s Dean of Enrollment Services George Maniatessays the school has nearly 20% more students now than it did in 2006.

 “The easy money for retraining, the No worker Left Behind Programs, those are all now gone. So people are pretty much on their own."

Maniates says his school is already seeing a significant decrease in the number of “adult learners” over 23 years old enrolling for summer and fall classes. He says that’s mainly because there’s less money for job retraining programs.

“We’re also seeing a lot of families who are torn between ‘well can I find a summer job – or do I go to school?”

Mike Hansen is president of Michigan’s Association of Community Colleges. He expects most community colleges will see flat or slower enrollment growth this fall.

“Now you have to remember too these are increases from historic highs. In other words if you walked onto these campuses you’d say ‘wow there’s tons of people here. There’s no spots left in the parking lot.”

He expects colleges in more rural areas will be harder hit.

Education
4:17 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

DPS reorganization calls for closures, conversions to charter

DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb
Sarah Hulett Michigan RAdio

Thousands of kids in the Detroit Public Schools system could see their school close or become a charter school next fall.

Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb laid out his reorganization plan today. It calls for closing seven schools this summer and one next summer. Another 18 schools will close by the fall unless a charter school operator can be identified to run them. And 27 more schools will be offered for conversion to charter schools, but will remain open otherwise.

Bobb says national experts and the community will carefully vet the applications to find “superstar” charter operators:

"It doesn’t do us any good to have anyone come in and receive a charter if in fact they do not have a proven track record of student achievement."

Detroit Board of Education President Anthony Adams says the troubled school district can either continue to close schools, or rethink its approach completely:

"If it is our responsibility to provide the highest level of education for students within our community, then we have to embrace a different service model of what we do."

The list of 32 schools is fewer than half the troubled school district will have to close or convert to charters to erase a $327 million dollar deficit. Bobb says it will be his successor’s job to finish the job. His contract expires at the end of June.

Environment
4:15 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Court of Appeals rules against Michigan CAFO operators

(USGS)

Large factory farms have lost a major court case in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The case involves farming operations with hundreds, sometimes thousands of animals. They are often called CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The appellate court upheld a lower court ruling that the state could require large confined animal feeding operations to get pollution discharge permits before opening. Farm groups challenged the state rule insisting they should only need a permit after releasing manure causing water pollution.  But today, the three judge panel disagreed:

We conclude that the DEQ was fully authorized to require CAFOs to either (1) seek and obtain an (federal) permit (irrespective of whether they actually discharge pollutants), or (2) satisfactorily demonstrate that they have no potential to discharge.  The circuit court  properly denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary disposition and granted summary disposition in favor of the DEQ.

Ann Wiowode  is the director of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. She welcomes this week’s ruling. 

 “That is essential in insuring they’re not allowed to begin operation and potentially pollute the water  without going through proper review.”

But while she welcomes the decision, Wiowode says more work is needed to protect Michigan from water pollution connected to agriculture. 

 “We think the regulations are still too weak.  And based on our experience, the permits themselves have many things that could be improved.”   

The Michigan Farm Bureau expressed disappointment with the decision.

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Environment
3:58 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Meeting tonight about pollution under Ann Arbor

A graphic representation of the dioxane plume under Ann Arbor
Scio Residents for Safe Water

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is holding a public meeting tonight about changes to the 1,4-dioxane groundwater cleanup plan in Ann Arbor.

The meeting will be held at 7:00 p,m. at Abbot Elementary School, 2670 Sequoia Parkway, Ann Arbor.

From the MDEQ:

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health
3:52 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Top 5 healthiest and unhealthiest counties in Michigan

This map shows healthier counties in white, unhealthier counties in green.
countyhealthrating.org

A new study says Ottawa County is the healthiest county in Michigan. The county borders Lake Michigan’s shore directly west of Grand Rapids.

Marcia Knoll is a community health analyst at Ottawa County’s Health Department. She says the department does not take credit for the county’s “healthiest” rating. Knoll says there are many organizations, churches and people working together to keep the community healthy.

“Instead of standing like silos, each with our own agenda and our own territory. So that’s not the environment here, that’s not the culture here and I think that has stood us well in the struggles and with our health care.”

The study was done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It looks at a number of measures that affect a community’s health; how many people smoke, are overweight, and have access to fresh, healthy foods.

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Politics
3:27 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

FOIA requests raise concern over academic freedom

K. Sawyer Flickr

Controversy continues to swirl around collective bargaining rights--and the protests that recent legislation has sparked--in Michigan and Wisconsin.

At issue now is a number of Freedom of Information Act requests done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The requests have been made for information on faculty at Wayne State, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan.

Some critics are claiming that the FOIA requests are being used to intimidate college professors from participating in pro-labor protests.

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State Law
2:31 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Two state lawmakers push to restore jobless benefits cuts

Two Democratic state lawmakers are preparing legislation that would restore unemployment benefits cuts recently signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder.  Snyder signed legislation to extend federal jobless benefits, but the bill also contained a provision shrinking state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks next year.  

Republicans lawmakers pushed for the jobless benefits cuts, saying it will reduce the burden on Michigan businesses, which pay into the state unemployment insurance pool. Jim Ananich is a state representative from Flint.   He’s introducing legislation to restore those benefits.  

“You know I’m hopeful that they will see the error of their ways and see that now is not a time to be taking money out of people’s pockets.”

Ananich hopes to introduce his bill next month.

Auto/Economy
2:09 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

New restrictions for young drivers take effect

Sam Kim Flickr

Buckle up, kiddos!

A new law restricting Level 2 driver's license holders (basically, first year drivers who have passed their driving test) goes into effect today.

The restrictions include:

  • Drivers cannot carry more than one passenger below the age of 21 unless they are family members
  • Drivers cannot drive after 10 p.m. or before 5 a.m. Exceptions include going to and from work, and driving when accompanied by a parent, guardian or other adult (21 years and older).

The Detroit News has more:

Listen up, teenage drivers: Starting today, some of you will be driving less and with fewer pals in the car because of two big changes to Michigan's Graduated Driver Licensing Law...

The more teens in a vehicle, the greater the chance of a crash, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning, a division of the Michigan State Police.

According to the 2009 Michigan Traffic Crash fact sheet, younger drivers "were less likely to be alone in their car at the time of the crash," with 169 people ages 16-24 killed and nearly 18,000 injured.

"Studies have shown for teen drivers, the crash risk increases exponentially for each additional passenger, but parents seem unaware of the dangers associated with passengers and nighttime driving," said Michael L. Prince, director of the Office of Highway Safety Planning. "The new requirements and the awareness campaign will go a long way in improving teen driving safety."

AAA of Michigan is on board with the new changes, according to Jack Peet, traffic safety manager.

"This new law will help strengthen the graduated licensing approach where teens gain more driving privileges as they get older and acquire more experience," Peet said.

"Many studies have shown that limiting the number of teen passengers in a vehicle driven by a teen or novice driver helps make them safer."

Before today, Level 2 drivers were allowed to stay on the roads until midnight.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio News

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