education

A proposal to get rid of the limit on the number of university-sponsored K–12 charter schools in the state is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk. The state Senate gave final approval to the measure yesterday at the state Capitol. Democratic lawmakers say it will hurt traditional public schools.

Republican state Senator Phil Pavlov said the final version of the bill should be more acceptable to everyone.

“There were some additional transparency measures included in this legislation, as well as a gradual lifting of the authorizers on the public school academies,” said Pavlov.

The bill would allow unlimited university-sponsored charters in the state by the year 2015. And it would require charters to report back to their authorizers on whether the new schools are meeting their academic goals. The bill does not require the charters to meet exceptional performance standards.

user jdurham / morgueFile

Michigan’s Republican-led Senate has passed a measure that removes the 150-school cap on university-sponsored charters. The bill is now stalled in the House.

The way the current cap works: If a charter is considered "high performing," it is re-labeled a School of Excellence, and removed from the cap, which leaves a vacancy for a new university-sponsored charter school to fill.

The Flint School District will deliver its deficit elimination plan to the state today. But a long-time critic doubts the district’s administration will be able to make the plan work.     

State law requires local units of government that finish their fiscal year with a deficit to send a ‘deficit elimination plan’ to the Treasury Department. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Momentum for a proposal to allow more university-sponsored charter schools in Michigan appears to have slowed in the state Legislature.

Some lawmakers and schools lobbyists said that’s because the measure does not require charter schools to prove their success.

Democratic state Representative Lisa Brown said the measure should include a requirement that charter schools meet performance standards before opening in Michigan.

“I’m for quality education and every child should have a right to high quality education. There’s nothing in this bill that provides that,” said Brown.

Ari Adler, a spokesman for state House Speaker Jase Bolger, disagreed. Adler said the majority of charter schools in Michigan have long waiting lists for student enrollment. And he said that’s a reflection of high performance.

“So obviously they’re doing something right or parents wouldn’t be lining up to take their kids there," said Adler. "But we are going to be looking at -- this year and well into next year -- quality education in Michigan and how that quality can be improved. And that would be at charter public schools, traditional public schools and all forms of education."

Opponents of eliminating the state’s charter school cap say a third of existing charters have poor performance records.

It’s unclear if the charter school bill will be approved before the end of the year.

Michigan Radio has been sponsoring a set of public forums designed to bring experts on various issues together with the public in an informal, non-threatening way, a series called “Issues and Ale.“ I moderated one earlier this week that focused on education, held at the Wolverine Brewing Company in Ann Arbor. I was doubtful how many people would actually show up. This was on Tuesday night in what is really early winter, with the holidays approaching. To my surprise, however, before the evening was over it was standing room only, with people packing the hall.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Update 11:36 a.m. The Muskegon Heights School Board plans to take the unusual step of asking for a state takeover. And they say they want Marios Demetriou, a Deputy Superintendent at the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, to be the person who servers as their emergency manager. 

The school district has a deficit of around $9 million, and it’s growing. The board blames rising expenses, funding reductions, declining enrollment, and soaring health care costs as reasons for its problems. The Muskegon Heights Superintendent, Dana Bryant, has decided to "give up his job" to "help with financial relief efforts." He'll retire at the end of the year.

The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Superintendent, Dave Sipka, will act as interim Superintendent for Muskegon Heights in the meantime. If one is appointed, an emergency manager could change or end union contracts to reduce the district’s deficit.

Doug Pratt, with the Michigan Education Association, said employees in Muskegon Heights have made sacrifices, and more concessions are not the answer. “The issue really is the fundamental lack of adequate funding from Lansing, especially when you look at the most recent cut of a billion dollars from public education that the legislature enacted earlier this year,” said Pratt.

Even though they’re asking for one, an emergency appointment wouldn’t come right away. A financial review would have to be performed before an EM is appointed. The Michigan Department of Education says they have not received the official request from the Muskegon Heights School Board yet, but they’ve been notified the request is coming. Michigan Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis said the state has had “great concern over the financial stability of Muskegon Heights for quite some time.” She said the Muskegon Heights deficit has grown from $800,000 to around $9 million in the last 5 years. “Their ability to repay that debt or balance their budget becomes harder and harder, just like it would with everyone’s personal budget, if they got further and further in debt,” said Ellis.

The Muskegon Heights School Board has asked for an emergency manager to run the school district.

Thursday, December 8, 11:36 p.m.

In a statement, Muskegon School Board President Avery Burrel said,

"This is the first step in a long process of rebuilding our district's operational future. With the loss of Dr. Bryant's leadership, and the load of debt we are under, my fellow board members and I felt we must set aside our personal pride and ask the State and MAISD for help. Our children are counting on us to do so, and the future of our district depends on our actions today."

9:49 a.m.

Most school districts or cities work to avoid an emergency manager appointment, but the Muskegon Heights school board is practically begging for an emergency manager.

The Muskegon Chronicle reports the school board owes more than $900,000 to the state retirement system.

From the Muskegon Chronicle:

The school board in a surprising move Wednesday voted to ask that Marios Demetriou, the deputy superintendent for the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, be appointed the district's emergency financial manager.

It also eliminated the superintendent's position, accepting the Dec. 31 retirement of Superintendent Dana Bryant, who in a statement said that considering all the other job losses in the district “I need to be man enough to give up my own job to help with the financial reform efforts.”

There are five emergency mangers operating in the state today.

With other school districts and cities in financial distress, more are likely to be appointed.

Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The Detroit Public Schools district says its students are making improvements on math and reading testing.

The state's largest district on Wednesday released details of its students' performance on National Assessment of Educational Progress testing. Detroit says it was one of six urban districts nationwide to show improvements in 2011.

The district says scores for its students trended up in all grade levels and both subjects. Still, for example, 66 percent of fourth graders scored at a below basic level for math and 71 percent of eighth graders were at a below basic level.

The district's emergency manager Roy Roberts says he's pleased with the progress.

In 2009, Detroit students ranked the lowest in the nation of participants on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math test.

Update 4:20 p.m.

The Governor's Office sent this press release after Governor Snyder signed the anti-bullying bill:

Michigan will become the 48th state to require schools to develop and enforce policies to protect students from harassment, intimidation and physical violence under anti-bullying legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder today.

The governor called on lawmakers to pass the legislation as part of the education reform plan he proposed in April, saying students need to feel safe in the classroom so they can focus on learning.

“This legislation sends a clear message that bullying is wrong in all its forms and will not be tolerated,” Snyder said. “No child should feel intimidated or afraid to come to school.”

The governor said having a clear policy in place will give teachers and administrators the tools they need to deal with bullies, but he added that parents can help by ensuring their own children do not engage in or encourage others to bully.

House Bill 4163, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Potvin, is known as “Matt’s Safe School Law” in honor of Matt Epling, a Michigan teen who ended his life in 2002 after enduring severe bullying.  The legislation gives schools six months to develop clear anti-bullying policies so they will be in place by the start of the 2012-2013 school year.  The bill is now Public Act 241 of 2011.

A detailed description of the bill’s requirements may be found online at www.legislature.mi.gov.

3:50 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed the law that requires schools to adopt anti-bullying policies. Family members of children who committed suicide looked on as the governor signed the measure. Until today, Michigan was one of three states that did not have an anti-bullying law.

courtesy UM GEO

Some graduate student research assistants at the University of Michigan, also known as GSRAs, have wanted to unionize under the "Graduate Employee Organization" for decades.

A decision on whether attempts to unionize graduate students can move forward is coming up at a December 13 meeting of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

The MERC is expected to vote whether to direct an administrative law judge to determine whether GSRAs are university "employees" or "students."

Many University of Michigan administrators and deans argue the GSRAs are students, not employees.

It they're determined to be employees, the 2,200 GSRAs can hold a vote on whether or not to unionize.

Now, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, on behalf of the people of Michigan, he says, has decided to jump into this administrative debate.

Update 11:52 a.m.

Equality Michigan, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, released a statement in response to the passage of the anti-bullying bill:

We’re thrilled that we were able to eliminate the destructive ‘license to bully’ that the Senate first approved in October. National outrage provoked by the last-minute substitution to allow bullying based on religious beliefs is a clear indicator that our Senate majority is out of touch with the voters.

That being said, we’re disappointed by the weak version of the bill passed today. Directed by the biases of a few, our Senate missed another opportunity to do right by our kids. Today’s bill will do little to stem the tide of bullying because it doesn’t enumerate commonly targeted characteristics. Case studies have found that school employees are unlikely to recognize and report incidents when bias bullying is not placed deliberately on their radar. Both Oregon and Washington passed weak bills like this one and had to go back and revise them years later when data showed the initial bills had failed. This kind of delay is not an acceptable response to Michigan's bullying crisis.

11:19 a.m.

An anti-bullying bill has cleared the Michigan legislature after the Senate passed the House sponsored bill this morning.

The bill, HB 4163, steers clear of controversial language included in an earlier Senate version of the bill (SB 137). That bill protected statements based on moral or religious beliefs.

From SB 137:

This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.

The bill as passed by the Legislature would require all school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies.

Some Democrats say the bill does not go far enough to protect kids from cyber bullying or to protect gay and lesbian students.

The anti-bullying legislation now goes to the desk of Governor Rick Snyder.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

More for-profit schools coming to Michigan?

The Republican-led legislature is planning to resume its push to allow more charter schools in the state. The Associated Press reports the discussions will start in the House Education Committee this week:

The education committee has scheduled hearings for Tuesday and Wednesday on the legislation that would end some numerical and geographical limits on charter schools. It narrowly passed the Republican-led Senate in October.

The state has roughly 250 charter schools. Supporters say more should be allowed to boost educational options in public schools.

Democrats say it appears to be an effort to help charter schools that are sometimes run by for-profit companies at the expense of other schools.

Democratic Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor on Tuesday plans to propose a constitutional amendment to ban for-profit schools. It's unlikely that proposal would advance in the Republican-led Legislature.

Remembering Frederik Meijer

The man who started "Meijer Thrifty Acres" with his father in 1962 died last Friday at the age of 91 after suffering a stroke. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported on today's public visitation:

Meijer spokesman Frank Guglielmi says they’re expecting at least 10,000 people to travel to Grand Rapids Tuesday for the public visitation.

“The Meijer family wanted to give the community an opportunity to pay their respects to Fred because he meant so much to so many people, not just in Grand Rapids but really in the state of Michigan,” Guglielmi said.

The public visitation will take place at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids from from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be a private funeral tomorrow at a Grand Rapids church.

Wet weather, rain turning to snow

The rain is falling, and the National Weather Service says snow is on the way.

Counties in the south and southeast part of the state have a mix of winter storm watches, flood watches, and flood warnings.

Rain will fall until late afternoon. That could turn to snow later with accumulations of around an inch.  Later tonight the winds will pick up and snow accumulations could be around 2 to 6 inches for much of the south and southeast part of the state.

MSU

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan State University says a secret admirer has donated $7 million to expand its geology department.

The East Lansing school announced the gift Tuesday. The university knows the donor, a Michigan State graduate who prefers to remain anonymous.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon says the money will pay for endowed professorships and endowed graduate fellowships.

The university says the search for three early career faculty members for the new endowed professorships is expected to start next year. Part of the money will complement funds from an earlier
anonymous donor and will endow graduate fellowships.

Michigan State says another part of the gift completes funding for the Thomas Vogel Endowed Chair in Solid Earth. It was established in 2006 in honor of the retirement of longtime geology professor Thomas Vogel.

Photo courtesy of Detroit Public Schools

The state-appointed emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools is releasing a half-year financial update on
the district Monday.

Roy Roberts has called a news conference for 11 a.m. to announce a six-month update and revised budget deficit projections.

In September, the district was facing a $327 million budget deficit. Its finances have been under state control since 2009.

Enrollment is about 66,000, down from 104,000 in 2007.

Detroit's schools have lost millions of dollars in state per-pupil funding as thousands of parents fled the district for city charters or suburban schools.

 A Michigan State University study says the job market for this year’s college graduates looks better. But the same cannot be said for those who entered the job market during the past few years.   

Michigan State University’s annual Recruiting Trends study predicts a 4 percent rise in hiring of new college grads. But what about those who’ve graduated since the recession began in 2008? 

Phil Gardner is the director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute.  He says job seekers who graduated between 2008 and 2011 are still not in demand. 

“So we have a huge problem for…about a three year pocket of graduates, and maybe even more, that are misaligned out there …haven’t been able to get attached to the labor market in a positive way," says Gardner.

Gardner says those graduates will just have to wait for hiring levels to increase substantially more before they will probably get their chance to get their career started.

Ian Tadashi Moore / Mosaic

Michigan’s economy is steadily becoming more "knowledge-based" than "factory-based." 

That means, in order to land a job and earn a decent salary, a college degree is that much more crucial. But for many lower income kids, higher ed is out of reach. But an arts group in Detroit is helping to level the playing field among teenagers...with very real results.

Using the arts as a "hook"

The other day I was on a panel with Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, talking about Michigan’s future.

We’ve done this a couple of times recently. I think some of the people who show up are looking for some sort of liberal-conservative food fight, and go away surprised that we are in as much agreement as we are over a lot of issues. Oh, there is a lot we disagree on.

In October of 2010 the Kalamazoo Community Foundation declared itself an anti-racist organization. But the foundation's leaders recognized it was going to take more than just a declaration to counteract persistent racial disparities.

Sharon Anderson, the foundation's Community Investment Officer, spoke with Michigan Radio's Tamar Charney.

"We're looking at every aspect of our work to determine who is being left out. Who is not at the table, and why...so that whatever we do, we do from an informed perspective," said Anderson.

The anti-racist program at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation was designed to include youths and youth-serving organizations. The foundation provides resources for youth organizations to develop after-school programs that build academic and social skills, and teach leadership and civic engagement.

The goal is more than equality, it's equity--identifying the gaps and taking action to ensure that every group has the opportunity to be successful. For Anderson that means fighting racial disparities by educating leaders and having an informed perspective when it comes to community development initiatives.

"We struggled in the beginning--where should we start? And the lesson is, start anywhere and keep moving," Anderson said.

-Meg Cramer-Michigan Radio Newsroom

CMU

The Central Michigan University Faculty Association held a strike on the first day of classes last August. The union said the CMU administration was not bargaining on their new contract in good faith.

A judge ordered the striking faculty members back to work and a state appointed fact finder heard both sides of the grievances in early September.

Now that fact finder, Barry Goldman, has let issued a report siding with the CMU administration on salary and benefit issues, according to Lindsay Knake of the Saginaw News.

More from the Saginaw News:

With salary adjustments, Goldman acknowledged in the report CMU has $228 million in unrestricted net assets, but said the university cannot be as generous with the funds as it appears.

“The CMU proposal of a zero increase in the first year and modest increases in subsequent years is not an unreasonable offer, all things considered. Circumstances are bad and getting worse. It would be extremely unwise for CMU to eat its seed corn,” Goldman’s statement said.

The administration’s offer includes a wage freeze for one year with increases equal to 4 percentage points over three years.

Golman also said the faculty should accept the health care plan being offered by the administration. His findings are non-binding, according to the Saginaw News.

More K-12 schools may be opening virtual doors in Michigan.

The state Senate has approved a measure that would eliminate the cap that allows only two cyber schools to operate in the state.

State Senator Patrick Colbeck says kids are learning more online than ever before.

“There’s kids who can fix computers in third and fourth grade [sic]. They’re the instructors for their parents and their grandparents already, so a lot of them are already learning that stuff online and they’re more in tune with it than [we are]… It’ll help channel kids into more productive pursuits, frankly,” says Colbeck.

Colbeck says thousands of kids are on waiting lists to get into the two cyber schools already in Michigan.

Those who oppose the cyber schools say online teaching should be blended with traditional classroom teaching in brick-and-mortar schools.

State Senator Phil Pavlov says it’s time to allow more cyber schools.

“I think that this idea of trying to limit the cyber opportunities is the wrong direction. I think we open it up, we let the parents and students decide, and the track record that we do have on cybers in terms of course catch-up work is phenomenal, in terms of addressing kids that may have dropped out already or are on a path to drop out,” says Pavlov.

The proposal now heads to the state House.

Michigan Islamic Academy

An Islamic school may sue a Washtenaw County township over a zoning decision. The Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees last night turned down the Michigan Islamic Academy’s request for a zoning change that would have allowed the academy to build a new school in the township, just south of Ann Arbor.   

With the nation's student-loan debt climbing toward $1 trillion, it's taking many young people longer than ever to pay off their loans. Two-thirds of college students now graduate with debt, owing an average of $24,000. But some borrow far more and find this debt influencing major life decisions long after graduation.

"I was very naive, and I realize that now," says Stephanie Iachini, of Altoona, Pa. She was the first in her family to go to college and financed it herself. "Basically I was just signing papers because the education part meant a lot to me."

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The Detroit Public Schools district has exceeded targeted fall enrollment by 137 students.

The district says in a release that 65,971 Kindergarten through 12th graders have enrolled.

Enrollment figures are based on the number of full-time students in the district at the end of the state's 10-day counting period. They do not include 3,000 students in pre-Kindergarten programs and about 4,000 in district-authorized charter schools.

Detroit officials expect the enrollment number to increase during a remaining 20-day period allowed for counting students absent, but excused on Count Day.

Detroit had been losing students at a rapid pace, plummeting from 104,000 in 2007.

The district ended last school year with about 74,000 students. Officials say the drop over the summer has been the smallest "real-number and percentage" decline since 2006.

Rep. Paul Scott's official website

The Michigan Supreme Court is being asked to stay a lower court ruling and allow Genesee County voters to decide if they want to recall State Representative Paul Scott.   

Last week, a judge issued a temporary injunction halting next month’s recall vote.    

Bobbie Walton is with the recall campaign.  She’s optimistic that the state supreme court will allow the vote to go forward.   

“We are hoping, through our efforts, we can bring the vote back to the people in District 51," says Walton.  

It turns out Michigan's state government might have brought in more money from taxes and fees than previously expected in the fiscal year that ended September 30th. That likely will set up a battle this fall over what to do with
the cash, which could total $285 million or more.

Democrats, outnumbered in the Michigan Legislature, say any extra money should be committed first to public schools and education programs that are dealing with budget cuts in the fiscal year that started this month.

Republicans, including those in Governor Rick Snyder's administration, are hesitant to commit to any spending before they have a clearer picture of state revenues.

Snyder's budget office is expected to close the books on the recently completed 2010-11 fiscal year in December.

We usually think of Franklin D. Roosevelt today as the quintessential liberal, big government president -- and in today’s polarized politics, both sides look back at his New Deal as the time when things either started going right or wrong, depending.

However, FDR didn’t think of himself that way. Once, when asked about his ideology, he said something like, “I try something, and if it doesn’t work, I try something else." Those who were really on the far left in his day mainly hated him. They understood what he was trying to do better than the right wing did.

As author Gore Vidal put it, “He saved capitalism. Whether it should have been saved or not is a different question. But he saved it, all right.”

I was reminded of this today by the ongoing, ferocious debate going on in Lansing over charter schools, which are independent, for-profit, public schools. A new package of bills would lift virtually all restrictions on charters, which are now limited to areas where public school performance is below average.

What bothers me is that so much of the ongoing debate over these schools is ideological or self-serving. And too few of the lawmakers debating these proposals are asking any version of FDR’s classic question, which in this case should be put this way:

What is the best way to make sure these children are being educated? Common sense means that we should all be in favor of any system that gets that job done, by any means necessary.

Every week on What’s Working, we take a look at people and organizations that are changing lives in Michigan for the better. Mabel Rodriguez, the director of the Migrant Outreach Program at the University of Michigan, is helping the migrant community by bringing U of M students to the community to teach English.

Rodriguez says that due to long hours and a limited ability to travel, members of the migrant community can not attend ESL (English as a Second Language) classes.

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

The Michigan Senate approved eliminating a cap on the number of charter schools, but not before a heated debate broke out about bullying.

The state Senate eventually approved a measure that eliminated restrictions on the number of university-sponsored charter schools in the state by a narrow margin. It now moves to the state House.

State Senator Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park) says eliminating the cap might give students and parents more options, but not necessarily better options.

 "Good public schools should be nurtured. Bad ones, they should be shuttered. Good charter schools should be nurtured. Bad ones should be shuttered," said Johnson. "The legislation proposed today does everything to eliminate the limits on how many charter schools can open in the state of Michigan, but it does nothing to ensure that those are high-quality schools."

Prior to passage, discussion over eliminating the cap on university-sponsored charter schools turned into a heated debate over bullying.

Democratic state lawmakers tried to attach an amendment to the charter school proposal that would require charter schools to adopt anti-bullying policies that specify what qualifies as bullying.

Senator Glenn Anderson tried to tack an amendment onto the charter school bill that would require charter schools to adopt anti-bullying policies.

His bill required lists of reasons kids could not be picked on, including weight, gender, race and sexual orientation.

Republicans have traditionally railed against similar bullying lists, and Anderson says that’s not acceptable.

"The sad fact is that there are some people that believe that there are some kids that should be protected and not others," said Anderson.

State Senator Tory Rocca (R- Sterling Heights) argued a Republican proposal that does not specifically list which groups of kids should be protected from bullying is better. He said their bill does not make distinctions between who is protected and who is not.

"This is why, when I hear my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, with who I’ve repeatedly worked in good faith, make frankly hateful comments about people on this side of the aisle, saying ‘they want to see children bullied, they want to see children committing suicide,’ it is beneath contempt, frankly," said Rocca. 

In the end, Republicans voted against both bullying proposals, saying the issue should be dealt with at a later date.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

A new White House report claims President Obama’s $447 billion American Jobs Act will save or create 11,900 teaching jobs in Michigan.

According to the "Teachers Jobs At Risk" report, about 300,000 education jobs across the country have been cut since 2008, and another 280,000 teaching jobs are in jeopardy.

CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Students were being sent home early at Plymouth-Canton Community Schools' high schools after police say a note containing a possible threat was found.

Police in Wayne County's Canton Township said in a statement that a "note indicating possible retaliation" was found before the start of classes at the suburban Detroit high school complex. Details of the note containing the "possible threat" weren't released by police.

Police say the high schools went into semi-lockdown and students were being sent home out of an abundance of caution. An investigation was under way.

The district announced the early dismissal for students at the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park on its website.

A state Senate panel has approved a measure that would allow school districts to hire teachers through private companies. The proposal is part of a controversial education-overhaul package.

“It’s something they can do as a tool to contain costs, if that’s what they want, if they want to take a different approach to how they hire their instructional service, they have that opportunity. It’s not a mandate, it just makes it permissive,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov.

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