On today's program, we explore the idea of secret work groups crafting public policy in Lansing, and how transparent Michigan's government should be.

And we look at whether expanding the lottery to the internet is a good idea.

We'll also hear how new technology being developed here in Michigan might be able to help authorities identify potential threats in airports or in large crowds.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Seven Michigan high schools received "gold medals" from the U.S. News Best High Schools 2013 rankings. 68 high schools received "silver medals," and 131 received "bronze medals."

Here's their top ten:

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The financial storm has been brewing at the Buena Vista School District outside of Saginaw for some time, but it came to a head today.

The Buena Vista School District announced that the school is closed today and that teachers will be laid off.

A community meeting is expected to be held at 6 p.m tonight.

The District has faced declining enrollment at a time when public education funds are being cut in the state.

Jake Neher / MPRN

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says public schools in Detroit have improved in the last four years. Duncan was in Detroit today with Governor Rick Snyder. They toured a traditional public school and a school in the state’s Education Achievement Authority.

The EAA is a controversial state-run authority meant to turn around failing schools. Based on his tour today, Duncan says the EAA shows promise.

“Obviously, long long way to go, and there’ll be bumps in the road and hurdles. But my only goal is to see every child be successful,” said Duncan. “I think the only way we get there is if, again, the EAA is successful, the Detroit public schools are successful, charters are successful. We just need great public schools across the state and across the country.”

U.S. Dept. of Education

DETROIT (AP) - President Obama's education secretary will be in Detroit on Monday for a town hall meeting on education issues and visits to three area schools.

The Detroit Public Schools and Gov. Rick Snyder's office say Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Snyder will visit a fifth-grade class at Thirkell Elementary School.

The school has about 490 students from preschool to eighth grade. It's about 31/2 northwest of downtown Detroit.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A pair of bills that would revoke welfare benefits from some Michigan families has cleared the state House. The legislation has support on both sides of the aisle.

One bill would let the state cut cash assistance payments to families with kids who persistently miss school.

The state Department of Human Services is already doing this – the bill would make the policy state law.

Many Republicans and Democrats say it’s a good way to promote school attendance in poor areas.

But Democratic Representative Jeff Irwin is worried some abusive parents might be keeping their kids out of school to avoid getting turned in to the authorities.

Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

Here's a question to consider: are we doing the students of Michigan a disservice by steering them to the jobs that businesses are demanding in today's world?

It's certainly a big push for Governor Rick Snyder.

But MLive columnist Rick Haglund has some misgivings about this growing push to match courses with what businesses want in Michigan grads.

He joined us today from Birmingham, and we asked him why he thinks this approach could backfire in the long run.

Listen to the full interview above.

Last week, the Lansing School District and its teachers ratified a new contract that totally overhauls the way art and music will be taught in its schools.

Art, music and phys ed teachers will be replaced in Lansing elementary schools. Instead, contract consultants will teach those subjects alongside the regular classroom teachers.

This story got us wondering about the future of arts education in Michigan.

How can school districts who are coping with cuts in funding and eroding tax bases and population manage to still provide arts education?

How much does arts education really matter in these days of heavy emphasis on the STEM, technology, engineering and math?

Joining me now is Kathy White. She's the President and CEO of the Michigan Assessment Consortium and she is the Project Director of the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment Program.

Listen to the full interview above.

Richard D. McLellan / Wikipedia

Chad Livengood of the Detroit News revealed the group that met in secret, which dubbed itself a "skunk works" last week:

A secret work group that includes top aides to Gov. Rick Snyder has been meeting since December to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education with a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Bill to decriminalize marijuana introduced in state Legislature

State Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced a bill in the state Legislature that would make possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor.

"Irwin says state and local governments spend about 326-million dollars per year enforcing current marijuana laws. Republican Representative Mike Shirkey is a co-sponsor of the bill, and Irwin says it has bi-partisan support," according to Michigan Radio's Joseph Lichterman.

Legislation to tie welfare benefits to school attendance approved by House

A bill that would take away the welfare benefits from parents whose children miss too much school is on its way to the floor of the state House. The bill would take an existing Michigan Department of Health and Human Services policy and make it state law. Republican Representative Al Pscholka law says it is an effective way to keep kids in school, but opponents argue the bill doesn't provide enough safeguards to ensure low-income families are treated fairly.

State superintendent Mike Flanagan to take over secret education work group

"Governor Rick Snyder has asked the state’s education chief to take over a controversial project that’s looking for ways to reduce school costs. The new project will be narrower in scope than one handled by a controversial group that met in secret and included members of the governor’s administration. Snyder says he wants the new group to consider ways to use technology to reduce school costs," Rick Pluta reports.

 Today, on State of Opportunity, I report on a troubling fact of charter school expansion in Michigan: Some of the state's best charter schools are struggling to compete against low-performing charter schools. The reason, simply enough, is marketing. Low-performing schools can easily outspend high-performing schools on advertising and recruitment gimmicks. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Education is front and center these days in Michigan.

Governor Snyder spoke today to a summit of education leaders, calling for businesses to get more closely involved with public education.

Snyder believes many students might be being pushed toward getting a four-year college degree when vocation education – technical career training or community college – might make just as much sense for them.

In the state House and Senate, there is movement towards changing Michigan’s high school graduation requirements.

I was struck by something Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan said yesterday at the Governor’s Education Summit.

This year’s summit was largely designed to examine how educators at all levels could better work with business to help students be ready for the careers for which there are jobs.

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose—up to a point. We probably need more high schools offering Chinese, for example.

Students in vocational education, or learning computer applications need to work on state-of-the-art technology. But I think having education be too narrowly focused is as ominous and scary as having kids insufficiently trained.

On today's show: the future of education in Michigan.

Governor Snyder has said he believes too much emphasis is  put on four-year degrees in our state.

Today, we take a look at the requirements to graduate high school in Michigan.

And billionaire and founder of Quicken Loans Dan Gilbert has a vision for reviving downtown Detroit, but what does Gilbert's "Opportunity Detroit" plan really mean for the city and its residents?

And it's been a challenging few days in terms of rain and flooding through much of Michigan.

In the Lansing area, the Red Cedar River has caused flooding on Michigan State University's campus, leaving some athletic fields waterlogged. This weekend the Lansing Marathon had to be rerouted along the Lansing river trail because of high water levels.
Residents in the Saginaw area are also seeing flooding from the Saginaw River. Over the weekend, officials opened a middle school in  Saginaw Township as a shelter due to flooding in the area. And flooding closed some area roads, and people were encouraged to avoid crossing roadways covered by water.
Meanwhile, water levels have lowered in the Midland area, which had been hit by flooding of the Tittabawassee River.

And Grand Rapids is still coping with the aftermath of flooding that hit downtown hotels, stores and businesses. We spoke with Michigan Radio's west Michigan reporter Lindsey Smith.

The Education Trust-Midwest

Michigan is falling behind most other states when it comes to improving student achievement.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from Royal Oak-based Education Trust-Midwest.

The report looks at the improvements in student achievement in Michigan from 2003 to 2011 and compares it to the improvements other states have seen.

On almost every measure, Michigan lags well behind the national average.

From the report:

Sadly, we have little to be proud of today. Our state’s educational performance is lackluster by practically any reliable measure.

Amber Arrellano of The Education Trust-Midwest says part of the problem is Michigan has relied primarily on charter schools to improve student outcomes, and not all charter schools have been successful.

"We're actually putting tens of millions of dollars and subsidizing the growth of some of our worst schools in the state. And that’s just not a good use of our taxpayer dollars," she said.

Arrellano says more school choice can improve outcomes, "but when the Legislature decided to lift the state cap on charter schools a few years ago, they did not include any performance standards for who gets to expand here."

Arrellano says there are high-quality charter schools that improve student performance in Michigan, but she says the lower quality charter school operators are expanding more quickly.

Arrellano says research from Stanford University shows that charter school operators with less successful track records are actually expanding more quickly than those with better track records.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Drug tests for welfare recipients

A bill which would require drug tests for welfare recipients has moved forward in the Michigan legislature.

"A state House panel yesterday sent the legislation to the full chamber. Under the bill, the state would have to have reasonable suspicion before requiring a test. Cash assistance benefits could be terminated for people who test positive," Jake Neher reports.

Student performance in Michigan falls behind

"A new report from The Education Trust – Midwest says Michigan improved some aspects of student performance, but most other states improved even more between 2003 to 2011. The report says one reason Michigan fell behind is that the state’s strategy for improvement relied primarily on the expansion of charter and virtual schools," Michigan Radio's Dustin Dwyer reports.

Ending unlimited coverage for auto accidents

Governor Rick Snyder and GOP lawmakers are unveiling a proposal today to end unlimited lifetime coverage for medical expenses tied to auto accidents.

"The insurance lobby and other critics say Michigan's unique requirement for unlimited medical coverage is too expensive. Hospitals and others say it should stay intact," according to the Associated Press.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers are seeking to change the state's high school graduation requirements to make it easier for students to pursue career and technical education programs.

The bills introduced in the House last month would allow students to substitute algebra II with statistics, technical math or another math relevant to their career and technical education. It would also remove the foreign language requirement.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Majority Republicans in the Michigan Legislature are split over spending plans for K-12 schools, public universities and community colleges.

Budgets that moved forward Wednesday include a difference over punishing public employers for signing long contracts before the right-to-work law took effect.

Other rifts include how much to boost preschool funding for at-risk 4-year-olds and whether to give K-12 schools a bigger boost in their per-pupil funding or more for employee retirement costs.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a $15 billion education budget that restricts or cuts funding for the University of Michigan and other publicly funded entities that agreed to new contracts with employee unions before March 28. Workers must continue paying union dues or fees until the contracts end.

Senate budget subcommittees are passing budgets without right-to-work penalties.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The US Department of Education is now investigating the state of Michigan over alleged civil rights violations.

The department’s civil rights office was already investigating two civil rights cases against the Detroit Public Schools.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / flickr

Some state lawmakers say it’s time to drop a set standards meant to evaluate schools across the country.

A House panel heard testimony today on a bill to opt out of the Common Core Standards Initiative.

Republican Representative Tom McMillin says it’s a federal takeover of school curriculum.

“We don’t want our kids to be common. We want our kids in Michigan to be exceptional. And this certainly lowers the bar, and makes it so that we have no ability to raise the bar.”

Governor Snyder was on hand in Detroit to wrap up his two-day Governor's Economic Summit Tuesday.

One of the summit's main goals was to start matching workforce talent and job skills with employers’ needs. There was a lot of talk about the need for better-trained employees in some sectors, particularly the skilled trades.

But Snyder says employers have to do their part, too—and treat potential employees like customers.

I didn’t go to an exceptionally good public school system, but I did have to study Spanish from kindergarten through eighth grade. More than 20 years later, I found myself in Colombia covering the aftermath of a volcano that buried a town. My rusty Spanish was anything but fluent, but I was able to ask directions, order meals, hire transportation and have basic conversations.

In high school I studied Latin, and later learned French and German, plus a smattering of Russian and Japanese. I am not really fluent in any of those languages, but they have helped me immeasurably. If I could do my life over, the major change I would make would be to have studied more languages more deeply.

If anything, this is far more essential today. We have a global economy, and a few years ago, Michigan sensibly started requiring high school students to take a second language to graduate. So I was horrified to learn that one of our state representatives, Phil Potvin of Cadillac, has introduced a bill to get rid of our language requirement and the requirement that students take Algebra 2.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A Democratic Michigan lawmaker wants to ensure that students are not penalized for missing school to observe a religious holiday.

Democratic Rep. Kate Segal of Battle Creek recently introduced a bill that would prohibit public school officials from counting days students take off to observe religious holidays against them when handing out perfect attendance or other awards.

Segal said in a statement that if children make up their missed work they should not have to choose "between observing their faith and boosting their academic resume."

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

From Maine, to California - from Alaska to Hawaii - one of the biggest challenges facing governors and state lawmakers is how to plug the gaping holes in their budgets.

Certainly, Michigan is right in the thick of that challenge.
There are plenty of belt-tightening measures that have been taken - cost-cutting steps that can leave the quality of life for citizens somehow diminished.
But a new report offers another way to plug those holes in struggling state budgets: keep our kids from dropping out of high school. Increase the graduation rates.

The education advocates who put this report together find that high school dropouts cost our nation some $1.8 billion in lost tax revenue.
Today we took a closer look at the cost of high school dropouts, and we found out how one Michigan school district has successfully managed to raise its graduation rate.
We were joined by Michigan State University economist Charley Ballard and the Superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools, Brian Whiston.
Listen to the full interview above.

University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - A University of Michigan history professor is being honored for his contributions to education research and policy.

Jeffrey Mirel has been elected to the National Academy of Education. As a member of the academy, Mirel will participate in professional development programs and serve on expert panels to discuss education issues.

He's one of 12 members from across the country elected this year.

DETROIT (AP) - The Detroit Public Schools is looking for more volunteer readers.

Reading Corps Week in Detroit begins Monday and runs through Friday. The district is planning a rally and training Saturday at Renaissance High School as part of its Reading Corps program.

Education, city and business leaders who have served as reading tutors will participate in the rally. Nearly 900 people have volunteered to help tutor Detroit students as part of the program.

New volunteers will be trained at the rally.

For art teachers in Michigan, it may be hard to even remember what “good news” feels like.

Between budget cuts, pink slips and declining enrollment, more than 108,000 Michigan kids don’t have any art access in their schools. That’s according to a 2012 statewide survey.

But for some 20,000 students, that’s about to change. They’re getting…a free bus ride.

"The money is just not there."

Students at computers
User: Extra Ketchup / creative commons

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

The state of Michigan is quickly becoming a leader in online education with the support of Governor Snyder.

K-12 schools, colleges and universities throughout the state are realizing the potential online learning offers to students. 

A recent education study conducted by The Center for Michigan found that residents are less enthusiastic about online learning. 

As a new form of education, there are still unanswered questions about the advantages and disadvantages of online learning for students.

Michigan Virtual University, founded in the late 1990's by the State of Michigan is now one of the largest virtual schools in the country. 

Michigan Radio's Cynthia Canty spoke with Jamey Fitzpatrick, the President and CEO of Michigan Virtual University.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

After the Center for Michigan released its big report on public education in Michigan last month, one of the big themes that emerged for discussion was how to evaluate teachers, and how to better prepare teachers to do their jobs.

We wanted to bring a teacher into the discussion, so we brought in Robert Stephenson.

He taught elementary school for 18 years in Okemos, and he is currently an administrator at Donley Elementary School in East Lansing.

Robert Stephenson was also one of the top five finalists for National Teacher of the Year in 2010.

The report from the Center for Michigan took the thoughts and opinions of people all over the state.

Four out of every five people say they want teachers to be better prepared for the classroom, and two out of three said "we need to hold teachers more accountable."

We asked Stephenson about teacher evaluation, and about what's  missing when it comes to preparing teachers to stand in front of that classroom.

user alkruse24 / Flickr

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

Last month, The Center for Michigan, a non-partisan, non-profit think tank, released its major report on K-12 public education in our state.

It was the largest effort ever to collect and analyze what the public thinks about Michigan schools and teachers.

As we heard here on Stateside, that report was based on hundreds of meetings with people all over the state.

And emerging from those discussions was a clear theme: the best way to improve Michigan schools is to improve the skills of the person standing at the front of the classroom.

Two-thirds of Michiganders say we need to hold teachers more accountable.

Four out of every five say they want teachers to be better prepared for the classroom.

Cyndy spoke with a high school principal, an education expert and a professor of teacher education to make sense of these statistics.