Kate Wells

Arts, Culture & Education Reporter/Producer

Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter covering cultural arts, education, and general news for Michigan Radio. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Morning EditionAll Things Considered, and Weekend Edition, as well as on WNYC, Harvest Public Media, KUT (Austin Public Radio) and in the Texas Tribune.

Kate got her start as an intern with New Hampshire Public Radio before heading out to the Midwest, where she covered the presidential caucuses for Iowa Public Radio and won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism. She joined Michigan Radio in 2012. Kate enjoys hiking, the Muppets, and cake in all forms.   

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

When students are failed by their school, who is legally responsible? 

Is a basic education a constitutional right?

And if it is, can the courts enforce it?    

These are the questions at the heart of this case, in which the ACLU of Michigan sued Highland Park schools and the state of Michigan, saying students were not taught basic literacy skills.

The Michigan Court of Appeals says the ACLU cannot sue the state and the school district on behalf of students – even if those students were “abysmally failed.”

How much does your vote count? Thanks to gerrymandering, it depends on where you live.
Theresa Thompson / Flickr

Hahaha! No. We're just kidding. 

It's really hard. 

But we were serious about there being only two steps. 

We looked into this question as part of our MI Curious project - people send in their questions about Michigan or its people, questions are put up for a vote, then we look into the winning question.

This time, the winning question came from Michael Bieri.

"What would it take to realistically end gerrymanding in Michigan?" 

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

So here’s the good news: It could soon be a whole lot easier to make a down payment on a house.

If you’re in the market right now, you’ve probably heard that Fannie Mae wants to start accepting down payments as low as just 3% for conventional loans.

For many households, that’ll make saving enough for a down payment possible in just a couple years, rather than the 12 years it can often take now.

Of course, lower down payments often come with higher monthly mortgage payments.

Beaumont Health System

Doctors, trauma specialists, and some EMS workers are meeting in Detroit today for the annual Detroit Trauma Symposium. 

It’s run by the Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State University.

Among other things, they're talking about lessons learned from how other states are handling Ebola, and how they’ve prepared to treat it in Michigan.

Update: 11/4/14

You probably know Rob Bliss, even if the name doesn’t ring a bell.

He’s the guy behind the Grand Rapids lip-dub video, the Pure Michigan sing-along ad, and now, the street harassment video that’s racked up 16 million views on YouTube.

In case you still haven’t seen it, the two minute video follows a young women in jeans and a t-shirt walking through New York. Bliss says they spent 10 hours filming with a hidden GoPro as the actress, Shoshana B. Roberts, endured more than 100 instances of street harassment, including stalking.

Michigan State University / http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/msu-partners-with-detroit-to-investigate-death-scenes/

It sounds like "CSI" meets "Bones." 

The Wayne County Medical Examiner is sending swab samples from dead bodies to Michigan State University researchers.

They're going to run a new kind of analysis in hopes of determining when someone died, whether they touched a weapon, and possibly even where they've been. 

What they’re looking at are the teeny-tiny things that live on our bodies: microbes.

You can’t see them with the naked eye, but we all have bacteria, fungi, and even tiny worms that live on our bodies and form their own ecosystems.

Whitmore Lake Public Schools / https://sites.google.com/a/wlps.net/wlps/

Next week, voters will decide whether Ann Arbor schools should annex the small, struggling district next door: Whitmore Lake.  

And some Whitmore Lake students say this may be the best way to save the small-town schools they love.

The 11th-graders in Jill Henry's advanced-placement government class are bright kids.

Even before they started doing their election projects about this possible annexation, they obviously knew their district was struggling.

After all, the whole district is down to just about 1,000 kids.

It’s $60 million in debt.

user clarita / morguefile

Hundreds of thousands of low income Michiganders are signing up for healthcare coverage under the state's recently expanded Medicaid plan. 

That expansion lets people who are slightly above the poverty line get on Medicaid. 

It was deeply controversial when it was approved in Lansing, largely because of its ties to Obamacare. 

But 100 days after it opened in April, more than 320,000 people signed up.

That's more people than were expected to sign up all year.

Lance McCord

Everyone is freaking out about Ebola right now, even though health experts say there is next to no chance of a widespread American outbreak.

But there will be a different outbreak this year that kills children, puts thousands of adults in the hospital, and sickens 10% of our population: the flu.

Yet the Centers for Disease Control says less than half of all Americans actually get the flu shot, even though it’s safer, cheaper and more accessible than ever before.

So we wondered: why not?

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It's only one study. 

But if it's right, then researchers at the University of Michigan and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration have just proven that Lake Erie is even more vulnerable to toxic bacterial blooms than we thought.

And we don't really know why. 

Don Scavia is one of the study's coauthors. He's a professor at the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan. 

"So we know that phosphorous loads going into the western basin of Lake Erie, primarily from agricultural sources, is what’s driving these blooms," he says. 

"This is why I hate Ann Arbor's bigotry," one Whitmore Lake parent whispered to her neighbor at an information meeting today to discuss whether Ann Arbor schools should annex the Whitmore Lake school district. 

So yeah, things got a little heated towards the end. 

But the first chunk of the meeting was spent tackling parents' questions about how the logistics and numbers would play out.

Ann Arbor Board of Education President Deb Mexicotte kicked off the event with her argument for annexation: right now, the Whitmore Lake district is barely operating in the black.

user krossbow / Flickr

Updated:

Black men have some of the lowest graduation rates among college students.

Nationally, just 33% of them finish their degrees within six years.

At Eastern Michigan University, it's even lower: around 18%, according to their numbers from 2004-2006.

“We have [about 1500] black males. We can’t connect with all of them, but we can cast a wide net.”

EMU likes to boast about their diverse student body – one of the “most diverse in the Midwest,” according to the school’s website.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

This fall, thousands of college students in Michigan are going through a new kind of training aimed at stopping sexual assaults before they happen.

It’s called "bystander intervention training,” which is exactly what it sounds like: trying to get students to feel comfortable stepping in when they see a potentially shady situation.

It’s ambitious, when you consider what kind of bravery it might take for an 18-year-old to put themselves in the mix when some stranger at a party heads off with a very drunk young woman.

LisaW123 / Flickr

Some forecasters are warning that this coming winter could be a replay of the not-to-be-forgotten winter last year.

Michigan counties are still reeling from the costs of clearing records amount of snow from the roads last winter.

They burned through their road salt stockpiles, and that's caused a shortage – and forced the price of salt through the roof.

It's up to $76 a ton, more than double last year's price.

Roy Townsend is with the Washtenaw County Road Commission.

"We're going to still obviously provide the service, clear the snow, do all that.

dailyinvention / Creative Commons

It's a really good year for the 850 family-run apple farms in Michigan.

They're approaching a near-record crop.

It’s thanks in part to the awful winter Michigan had.

It turns out, the cold weather helped the apple trees stay dormant long enough so their spring blooms didn't freeze.

Diane Smith is the executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee.

She says this year’s crop is one of the “cleanest” they’ve seen in years – no bug issues or early blossoming killing the crop off.

Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

For years, kids have been leaving Benton Harbor schools in droves.

Meanwhile, per-pupil money from the state has been flat. 

Now the school district has signed a consent agreement with the state to wipe out a $15 million deficit.

Ask school board member Joseph Taylor how Benton Harbor schools got here, and he says, simple:

"It's what's called debt. You know, we had an $18 million deficit. We knocked it down some, but the state only gives you so much time. And when that time ran out, we had to consider other options."

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint Police say they're investigating more than 50 water theft cases across the city.

They say they've already arrested 7 people, including a City Water Department employee who is accused of illegally turning on water for residents.

Flint has some of the highest water rates in the county: an MLive analysis this summer showed that an average resident pays $140 dollars a month, while people in the neighboring town of Burton pay less than $58 a month.

And the city raised its rates again in July.

Jason Lorenz is with the city of Flint.

Half of all college students in the U.S. drop out, according to Michigan State University, and another 25% wind up on academic probation.

It’s part of the research MSU is doing with 10 other big schools to better understand why so many students don’t make it to graduation, and what colleges can do about it.

For low-income and first-generation kids, getting to graduation is harder

Students who are from low income families or the first generation in their family to go to college are more likely to struggle, says MSU provost June Youatt.

The Colbert Report

The Detroit Fire Department is getting calls from software companies as far away as California and Oregon.

The companies want to donate updated alert systems after the department's current system was featured on the comedy TV show, "The Colbert Report.”

The show aired a Detroit Free Press video about emergency alerts coming into fire stations via fax machine.

Firefighters rig up contraptions like soda cans full of screws on top of the fax machines.

So when the cans fall over, firefighters hear the alert.

Center for Disease Contorl / http://www.cdc.gov/hai/outbreaks/meningitis-facilities-map.html

The first person arrested for sending tainted drugs to doctors, causing the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak, pleaded not guilty today.

Glenn Adam Chin is a Massachusetts pharmacist who supervised so-called “clean rooms” at the New England Compounding Center.

He’s being charged with one count of mail fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, according to reports.

Chin’s employer, the New England Compounding Center, was supposed to be tailoring medications for individual patients whose doctors sent in a valid prescription.

http://www.michigan.org/property/grand-rapids-ballet-company-peter-martin-wege-theatre/
Michigan.org

Yes, there is a professional ballet company in Grand Rapids.

In fact, they're the only one in the state. 

And they are really fed up with people not knowing that.

“We used to have letterhead that said ‘Michigan’s best kept secret’ or something, and I was like, let’s get rid of that,” laughs the company’s executive director, Glenn Del Vecchio.

But the city’s ballet has long had support from one of West Michigan’s biggest philanthropists, Peter Wege.

Aerial shot of flooding in metro Detroit on August 12, 2014.
Michigan State Police

Nearly a month after a massive rainstorm flooded homes and streets in Southeast 

Michigan, FEMA is wrapping up damage assessments that could help victims get federal aid.

Officials have toured damage in three counties to assess the hits to both private homes and public property, like schools and fire trucks.

Their report will eventually land on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk, who will decide whether to apply for presidential aid. 

Even then, actually getting that aid can be a long shot.

miss.libertine / Creative Commons

Pot, meet your new friends: Michigan Republicans. 

All the signs indicate that the conservative legislature will legalize medical marijuana dispensaries and edibles this year. 

The House overwhelmingly passed the dispensary bill, which was a bit of a shock to the bill's sponsor, Mike Callton.

He's a Republican from Nashville, Michigan,and a chiropractor who's passionate about the benefits of pot for some patients with cancer and chronic pain.

But the first time he brought the idea up, he could barely get two co-sponsors on board.

Green Paws, Unlimited

Because sometimes we need some happy news, you know? 

And if you've already clicked your way through  the bathing and ribbon dancing baby elephants, here's something closer to home.

Kent County's health department sent out this release on Sept. 5: 

"GRAND RAPIDS – When Malachi, a 12-year-old terrier mix, was taken by Kent County Animal Control from a suspected hoarding situation in Grand Rapids this summer, she was a mess.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan is celebrating its new president, Mark Schlissel.

He's being officially installed in office today, with a long list of lectures and ceremonies to mark the occasion, including a cross-campus procession of faculty in full caps and gowns.

Schlissel has an impressive resume: Princeton, Johns Hopkins, an M.D. and a Ph.D., a residency in internal medicine, and most recently provost at Brown University.

And he is going to need all the smarts, diplomacy, and mediation skills he picked up along the way.

Detroit Institute of Arts
Maia C/Flickr

Things got heated today at Detroit's bankruptcy trial.

Syncora, a bond insurer that is arguably one of the city's biggest opponents in this trial, is coming out swinging.

And you're going to hear that name a ton during this trial, so let's recap real fast.

Who is Syncora? 

Syncora is a company. They insure bonds. They decided that they were willing to insure bonds that Detroit sold.

So they have hundreds of millions of dollars to lose here.

A Detroit police car
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

For the first time in years, Detroit Police say the city is on track to have fewer than 

Detroit bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes.
John Meiu / Detroit Legal News Publishing LLC

A recent order from the court reads like a Facebook argument.

It started with Syncora, a major bond insurer that claims Detroit owes it more than a billion dollars.

The company filed an objection to the “grand bargain” that’s been coming together to save the Detroit Institute of Arts and protect the city’s pensioners.

Basically, Syncora says it and other Wall Street creditors are getting treated like the bad guys, while the DIA and the pensioners are clearly the hometown favorites.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The same type of toxic bacteria bloom that threatened Toledo's water is now affecting a small 

Canadian Island on the western end of Lake Erie.

Health officials on Pelee Island have closed the beaches and are warning people not to drink the water.

This is crummy timing, since the Labor Day weekend is usually good business for the island's tourist economy.

Rick Masse is the mayor.

"It's not a really good advertising for our community,” he says.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Muslim clerics held a vigil in Dearborn last night to show their opposition to ISIS, and to pray for the family of James Foley, an American reporter killed recently by the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

The small crowd held candles and signs saying “Muslims against ISIS.”

Sara Albusaid immigrated to Dearborn from Iraq.

She says her husband and son are still in southern Iraq, where they're being inundated with people fleeing the violence in other parts of the country.

"I mean, it's not just my country. I'm very worried about all the world. It makes me cry a lot, because I see you know, innocent people [have] died. I have to raise my voice" said Albusaid.

Albusaid says she’s frustrated with U.S. forces for leaving Iraq and creating the political vacuum that has allowed ISIS to spread.

"I feel very angry because, you know, when they go inside Iraq they said we are the big help for Iraqi people, and then after that, they don't care," she said. "Or there is something they wanted from Iraq, and they take it and they leave."

More than one cleric told the crowd they have to publicly stand up against any group that commits violence in the name of Islam.

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