public education

Tracy Samilton

A new political alliance says it will try to help elect Mark Schauer as Michigan Governor in November, along with other politicians who want to restore public education funding.

Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change held its first rally in Ann Arbor Thursday evening. 

About 250 people, many of them teachers, attended. 

Most were from Ann Arbor.  But one teacher drove all the way from Marquette to support the cause.

Have you forgotten about the snow already?
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan is giving school districts more flexibility in making up for snow days this academic year.

Districts that had scheduled more than the required 174 days of school can now hold just that number if they still meet the required 1,098 hours per school year. Schools that exceeded the six canceled days allowed under state law may not need makeup days.

Schools that need to add more days to the end of the school year can receive state funding as long as they have 60% of students in attendance on those days. That's down from the regular 75% attendance requirement.

Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed legislation allowing for the changes after record snowfall and harsh temperatures this past winter.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Back in 2010, the State Board of Education approved the Common Core State Standards for Michigan — a set of math and English goals for K-12 students.

School districts across the state have spent the past three years integrating the standards into their curricula. At the same time, we've heard a lot of political debate about Common Core, mostly about the involvement of the federal government in our classrooms.

But in October of this year, state lawmakers OK'd funding for Common Core, and now it is becoming a reality in Michigan classrooms.

We wanted to find out: What does this mean — day-in, day-out — for Michigan's students?

What does a school year under Common Core really look like?

Joining us is Naomi Norman, the executive director of Achievement Initiatives at Washtenaw Intermediate School District and Livingston Educational Service Agency.

Listen to the full interview above.

That's according to a report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

It says per-student spending is $572 less than it was before the recession.

The Center looked at state school funding across the country, and found that most are funding their schools less.

The reduced levels reflect not only the lingering effects of the 2007-09 recession but also continued austerity in many states; indeed, despite some improvements in overall state revenues, schools in around a third of states are entering the new school year with less state funding than they had last year.

Michigan is listed as one of those states with less money for this school year compared to the year before.

How do the cuts in Michigan compare to spending in other states? Take a look:

Dwight Burdette / wikimedia commons

The financially troubled Michigan school districts of Inkster and Buena Vista have until 5 p.m. Monday, July 22 to prove they have the money to run their school districts and that they have plans to eliminate their deficits.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon and Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan informed the districts of that deadline today.

Michigan.gov

Debate is underway in Lansing about whether to implement a set of state school standards.

A state House panel held its first meeting on Common Core State Standards Tuesday.

Republican Representative Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) grilled state Department of Education officials about Common Core. He says the standards take away local control and were developed and adopted without public input.

Meanwhile, state Superintendent State Superintendent Mike Flanagan is urging lawmakers to go forward with a set of nationwide school standards. Flanagan argues that districts would have final say over standards and curriculum.

“Technically, [districts] don’t even have to follow the Common Core,” Flanagan said. “Now, I think they will. It’s a smart...well thought out set of standards.”

Gov. Rick Snyder also supports adopting the Common Core standards.

Virtually everybody agrees Michigan has too many public school districts. Some are too small to provide adequate educational opportunities for their students, in part because they have difficulty coming up with enough revenue to operate properly.

The legislature recently passed a law to allow two of the weakest of these districts, Buena Vista and Inkster, to be dissolved.

But Michigan has a lot more districts running deficits, and the situation is expected to get worse. The root of the problem is this: We can’t decide whether we want primary and secondary education to be a state or a local responsibility.

MichigansChildren / YouTube

One hundred years ago, the state of Michigan had more than 7,000 local school districts.

There are slightly more than 800 school districts today, and many of them are struggling with their finances.

Today, State Superintendent Michael Flanagan outlined a plan he says would save money.

He wants more school services consolidated at the county level.

user dig downtown detroit / Flickr

We've heard about the tuition increases for other public universities in Michigan.

Tomorrow, the board of regents for Wayne State University will vote on that school's increase.

David Jesse over at the Detroit Free Press reports it could be a big one:

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Education released overall standardized test results for Michigan's high school students this morning.

Test results for all subjects in the Michigan Merit Examination (MME) were down slightly when compared to last year. ACT results showed a mix bag when compared to last year's results.

When looking back over the last four years, officials at the Michigan Department of Education say the test results show an "upward trend in student proficiency on both the 2013 Michigan Merit Examination (MME) and ACT college entrance exam."

MIVote

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) - Education reform crusader Michelle Rhee says Michigan is making progress toward improving its schools but has more to do.

Rhee is the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools and founder of an advocacy group called StudentsFirst. She spoke Thursday during the annual Detroit Regional Chamber policy conference at Mackinac Island.

Rhee is a self-described lifelong Democrat who has clashed with teachers' unions, one of the party's key constituencies. During her speech, she called for honoring the teaching profession but demanding more accountability and rewarding the best teachers with more pay.

She also supports school voucher programs, which are unpopular with many Democrats who believe they drain money from public schools.

Rhee praised Michigan's Educational Achievement Authority, which was created to improve the state's lowest-performing schools.

Watch her speech here (scroll one hour in):

Preschool-age boy practicing writing his name at a table in a Head Start classroom.
Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

"It's certainly a good day for early childhood advocates." - Matt Gillard of the Michigan Sandbox Party

Dustin Dwyer from our State of Opportunity team has more on the expected increase for early childhood education in Michigan:

The annual legislative brawl over how to spend the state's money is expected to come to a close this week in Lansing. The budgets currently under consideration include many changes. One of the biggest is a nearly 60 percent increase in the state's funding for early education.

The governor initially proposed a $65 million increase for the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) in his budget. The proposal went back and forth as it made its way through the legislature this year, but it's now looking like the governor will get his way.

Read his full report here.

user: jdurham / morguefile

This fall, 32 new charter schools are scheduled to open in Michigan.

To check out where these schools will be located, look at this Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) link.

According to MAPSA, there are currently 232 charter public schools in Michigan with over 100,000 enrolled students.

This year, there number of charter schools opening is due in part to a controversial law that lifted restrictions on charter schools.

More from MAPSA:

Michigan law allows new public schools to be chartered by state universities, community colleges, intermediate school districts and local school districts.

“Michigan’s system of charter school authorizing and oversight is considered a model around the country, and as we look at the new schools opening this year, we can see why that is,” [MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry] said. “Once again, the authorizers have done an excellent job of making sure that only the best, most promising schools will be allowed to open. You’ll notice that we aren’t seeing the supposed ‘flood’ of new charter schools that some critics feared. The authorizers aren't going to charter any new school that doesn’t offer a high-quality, innovative approach.”

49 schools districts in Michigan are in the red. Albion is not one of them. To avoid the red numbers, the district cut their high school.

Students and teachers in the Buena Vista School District are back in the classroom today.

After a two-week closure of the Saginaw County district, all three schools in the district opened their doors Monday morning. To make up for lost instruction time, the school year will now end on June 21, instead of the scheduled June 13, MLive reported.

The district shut down after the state pulled some $400,000 in misappropriated funding.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Bake sales, magazine subscriptions and car washes ... it seems school systems are perennially low on money.

But with one Michigan school system closing its doors before the school year ends, others consolidating to save money, and still another giving up on its high school; Michigan schools seem to be in an especially bad spot.

Blame gets spread around.

It's the economy - mismanagement - declining enrollment - excessive funding cuts - high retiree costs - or cumbersome union contracts.

Pick whatever reason you like best, it doesn't change the fact that many Michigan schools are in trouble.

The State's Deputy Superintendent of Schools wrote this in a recent memo to local school officials:

"... we have seen a marked increase in the number of districts that have experienced a deficit fund balance. The magnitude of some of these districts seems almost insurmountable."

Let's give it a little perspective.

Over the last decade, here are the number of schools that ran a deficit in a given school year.

Michigan had 742 school districts in 2002-2003. Today, the state has 805 districts.

Of the 805 districts today, as the chart shows, 49 are running deficits.

Here are the fifteen schools in Michigan with the biggest projected budget deficits as a percentage of their expected overall revenue. It should be noted that these numbers could change as the school year advances.

Sarah Alvarez / Michigan Radio

A public school in Michigan closing before the year ends isn't just a state story.

The Washington Post picked up on the troubles of the Buena Vista school district in a piece by Lyndsey Layton today.

Layton looks at how often these kinds of closings happen around the country:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Students at Saginaw County's Buena Vista school district may be back in the classroom soon. The state has approved the district's plan to bring itself out of debt.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan has approved the release of state aid funds to the Buena Vista school district.

The district hasn't held class since May 3 because it ran out of money to pay its teachers. Last night the Buena Vista board of education approved a deficit elimination plan.

Flanagan says he is now encouraging the local school board and administration to reopen the doors as soon as possible. The state will release state aid to Buena Vista on May 20th, allowing the district to make payroll on May 24th.

The aid will put an end to any discussion of a “Plan B” that was developed earlier this week to have Buena Vista students use federal money to attend a skills camp over the summer.

The schools will be open today for those students who qualify for free meals.

Sarah Alvarez / Michigan Radio

The Buena Vista School District unceremoniously shut down ten days ago, sending staff and students home for the year after the district ran out of money.

At Tuesday night’s emergency school board meeting there was almost universal confusion about what happens next. 

The school board unanimously approved a deficit elimination plan they hope will allow state aid payments to start up again so students can get back in the classroom. 

If that doesn't work, the board grudgingly approved a plan for a summer "skills building camp," in lieu of traditional classroom time.

Nobody at the meeting seemed very happy about that option.

Michigan Radio does an interesting occasional series called Issues and Ale, in which those who know something about a particular public policy get together with citizens in a relaxed setting to discuss things that really matter. Last night we held one on “The Future of Public Education” in an improv theatre in the city of Ferndale, which I thought was an excellent choice.

Ferndale is an older, working-class Detroit suburb which has been a distinct community since the 1920s. Times are not what were, and the city has shrunk over the years to about 20,000 people. Ferndale has become somewhat well-known over the last two decades for its welcoming of the gay and LGBT communities, who have done much to revitalize neighborhoods and the city’s downtown.

But Ferndale also has a dedicated group of parents very concerned with education, their kids’ futures, and want to make sure their children are getting what they need to succeed.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Republican state lawmakers say they are committed to passing an overhaul to public education in the “lame duck” session.

Opponents of the bills have been ramping up pressure to hold off until next year.

The bills include the expansion of a state-run district for struggling schools and a measure seeking to increase school choice.

House Education Committee Chair Lisa Lyons said the legislation can’t wait.

“We need to allow these schools and parents and students all the time, as much as possible, to transition and to plan for the education that they are going to receive next fall,” Lyons said.

A coalition of Michigan public school officials says the legislation would strip local control of schools.

Supporters say too many schools are failing to provide quality education. They say the measures are the best way to turn that around.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate Education Committee will launch two days of hearings Tuesday focused on school choice and ways to encourage more charter academies. A Senate Republican education package would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools academies that can be sponsored by public universities. 

The Senate GOP package would also allow more online charter schools and make it easier for parents or teachers to ask a school district to convert a traditional school to a charter.  

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

About 500 people in West Michigan spent a couple hours Friday night in Grand Rapids, talking with their state representatives about how to fund public education. 

The forum was rescheduled from last week after a fire marshal shut it down in Lowell (20 miles west of Grand Rapids) because so many people showed up it broke the fire code of the building.

Last night the crowd was  passionate, at times interrupting and booing Republican lawmakers.