public schools

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The way Michigan schools are funded is complex and emotionally charged.

Proposal A was passed in 1994. It was a new system for funding schools. It stopped the use of local property taxes as a source of school funding. Instead, it created a new state education tax, and it boosted the state sales tax from four to six cents on the dollar. The extra two cents goes to the school aid fund.

Twenty years after the changes, one thing many Michiganders agree on is that it's time to overhaul Proposal A, but there are many views on how to do that.

This week, Bridge Magazine is featuring a series of reports by Chastity Pratt Dawsey looking at how we fund schools in Michigan.

Dawsey joined us today.

*Listen to our conversation with her above.

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.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System is asking the state to front $191,000 to cover paychecks that are set to go out this Tuesday.

It’s the second time this month the district has asked for an advance.

The advance would come out of the district’s state aid payment April 20. Earlier this month the state advanced $231,000.

State treasury officials say the district typically gets roughly $455,000 a month after debt obligations.

School board officials have previously declined requests for comment from Michigan Radio. Reports out today say board members also declined to comment to reporters at the special board meeting today, which lasted approximately five minutes.

Charter company Mosaica Education is running the district. The company’s CEO has not returned repeated requests for comment this week.

Mosaica’s Regional VP of Operations Alena Zachery-Ross says advancements for struggling school districts aren’t completely uncommon. She says the district is working on a plan to meet payroll for the rest of the year but couldn’t comment on the details of those negotiations.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Some at-risk schools in Michigan could soon get more state funding if they agree to go year-round.

In his budget address in February, Gov. Snyder called for a state pilot program to encourage year-round schooling. School districts could get money to add air conditioning and other upgrades to old buildings so they could operate during the summer.

Supporters of the measure say students lose a lot of what they learn during the school year after long summer breaks.

State Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, is sponsoring year-round education legislation. He says teachers have to reeducate students in September and October.

“You could have 30 and even up to 60 of the 180 days of kids relearning what they should already know,” said Schor.

But do these measures actually work?

Harris Cooper is professor and the chair of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. He joined us today to share his thoughts.

Listen to the interview above.

user John Phelan / wikimedia commons

The money comes from the Department's School Improvement Grants program. 

Ten states received grants, and Michigan was second to Texas in the amount given. Texas will get $46.7 million through the SIG program.

More from the Department of Education's press release:

Do teachers' beliefs on climate change affect their students? Yes and no.
Flickr user Frank Juarez /

Proposed changes to special education rules in Michigan are causing alarm and concern for some parents.

You can read about the proposed changes here.

Marcie Lipsitt is the founder of the Michigan Alliance for Special Education, a grassroots organization that advocates for special education students. 

The proposed rule revisions would be "catastrophic," according to Lipsitt.

*You can listen to her thoughts above.

Sharon Drummond / Flickr

There are fewer Michigan school districts running into the red this year, and even more are projected to work their way out of budget deficits by the end of the school year.

Politicians in Lansing say they're encouraged by the trend, but peel away the top layer and it's not all good news. MLive Capitol reporter Jonathon Oosting joined us to explain why.

*Listen to the interview above.

flickr user Motown31 /

The state of Michigan is ending its exclusive contract with the Education Achievement Authority to oversee the worst-performing schools in the state.

State School Superintendent Mike Flangan sent a letter to the EAA saying the state will pull out of its exclusivity agreement with the Authority one year from now.

Martin Ackley is with the Michigan Department of Education. He says the state still intends to use the EAA to help turn around struggling schools.

“Now, this is in no way a statement or an indication of a lack of confidence in the EAA or its academic strategies. This is just an action that needed to be taken in order to provide flexibility and to provide options other than the EAA in which to place these most struggling schools.”

So, what are the other options that the State might use to help failing schools? And what's ahead for the controversial EAA?

Jake Neher, who covers Lansing for the Michigan Public Radio Network, joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

flickr user Motown31 /

The Michigan Department of Education will end its exclusive contract with the Education Achievement Authority to oversee some of the state's lowest-performing schools.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan has sent a letter to the EAA notifying it that the contract will be terminated a year from now.

The MDE says it still intends to use the EAA to turn around struggling schools. It says ending the contract will simply open up more options to other entities that can oversee the schools.

The EAA currently runs 15 schools in Detroit. 

Martin Ackley is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education.

"There are situations where a struggling school may be better served by a neighboring school district or the local intermediate school district as opposed to the EAA."

Ackley says the state still intends to use the EAA to help oversee struggling schools. He says ending the contract will simply give state education officials more options.

"Now, this is in no way a statement or an indication of alack of confidence in the EAA or its academic strategies. This is just an action that needed to be taken in order to provide flexibility and to provide options other than the EAA in which to place these most struggling schools."

Critics of the EAA say it's struggling with declining enrollment, finances, and school safety. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would bolster the authority and allow it to expand it statewide. 

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Two in every three Michigan public school districts contract out at least one major service, like custodial, transportation or food service. That’s according to a yearly survey of districts.

The Midland-based research institute Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which supports privatizing services, has published the survey every year since 2003. Here’s a summary of the center’s survey:

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Parents want to know how safe their child's school is. How many incidents of bullying have happened, for example? How many kids caught with drugs or alcohol?

Well, it's been more than a decade since the state of Michigan required the reporting of school safety information, but it appears that requirement is failing.

Bridge Magazine writer Ron French recently dug into the extent of the problem.

*Listen to the audio above.

Teacher at a chalkboard explaining to his students
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.

Does diversity make for better schools?

Nov 13, 2013
clipping courtesy of Ray Litt / via Detroit Free Press

In short, the answer is 'we don't really know.'

Stanford University's Sean Reardon studies achievement gaps - the difference between how one group of students performs compared to another group.

When comparing black, white, and Latino students, Reardon says you see the importance not so much of race, but of class.

"Over the last 40 or so years, the black-white achievement gap and the Hispanic-white achievement gap have narrowed a lot," Reardon said. "On the other hand, the gap between high and low income students has increased quite dramatically."

Reardon said that particular gap has grown about 40% since the 1980s. 

But while economic diversity might matter more in ensuring a quality education, that doesn't mean people want to give up on racial and ethnic diversity.

Ray Litt, a community activist involved in Detroit's Milliken v. Bradley case, reflected, "The desegregation action was to provide a quality integrated venue in which students and staff are exposed to and can interact with kids of different races religions and economic status," he said. "We all need to be able to be comfortable, not tolerating, a society that is the melting pot."

Racial diversity is not something you are likely to find in a majority of Detroit's schools, even after a hard fought desegregation plan.

Read more and listen to the whole story at State of Opportunity.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A new Michigan State University study suggests a Catholic school education might not be better than a public schools education.

Todd Elder is an MSU economist. He says it's true that test scores for Catholic school students are better than for public school students. But Elder says that gap is wider in Kindergarten than it is in the eighth grade.

Michigan is home to five national parks and there are lots of open spaces where you can camp, hunt and enjoy nature. But, yesterday, an Oklahoma Senator recently said two Michigan landmarks are a prime example of wasteful federal spending. We found out what’s behind the senator’s reasoning and whether there is some truth to his concerns.

 Then, we took a look at a new proposal by a group of Democrats in the Michigan House that would require the state to determine the actual cost of educating a public school student in Michigan. That got us thinking, shouldn't we already know?  We also spoke with Michigan writer Donald Lystra about his new collection of short stories. And, Ann Arbor now has its own Death Café, organized by funeral home guide Merilynne Rush. She stopped by to tell us more about it. But, first on the show, ever since the government unveiled its website, the headlines surrounding the Affordable Care Act have been about the problems with the way the site was designed and the extreme difficulty Americans have had in getting on the exchange. But what about the Americans that don't need The ones who already have plans? To those consumers, President Obama has been saying this since 2009:

“If you like your current insurance, you will keep your current insurance. No government takeover, nobody’s changing what you’ve got if you’re happy with it.”

So why, then, then are some 2 million Americans - about 140,000 in Michigan - getting cancelation letters from their insurers over the past couple of weeks?

Marianne Udow-Phillips directs the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation, a non-profit partnership between the University of Michigan and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan. She joined us today.

Last month, the Michigan House Democrats School Reform Task Force unveiled a new proposal that would require the State Department of Education to determine the actual cost of educating a public school student in Michigan.

That got us wondering: do we really not know how much it costs to educate a student in our state? And if so, why not?

Michael Addonizio is a professor of education at Wayne State University, and he joined us in the studio.

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:

Zak Rosen / Michigan Radio

Today on The Living Room, we get a dose of back-to-school advice from young students in Kalamazoo. After that, a report from a new charter school that’s trying to create its own education paradigm in Detroit.

It’s called the James and Grace Lee Boggs School.

Today marks the beginning of a yearlong series from the school by producer Zak Rosen. The Living Room is produced by Allison Downey and Zak Rosen.

user BES Photos / Flickr

That's the question raised in a guest column in Bridge Magazine by my next guest.

Margaret Trimer Hartley is superintendent of the University Prep Science & Math Academy in Detroit . She's also the former head of communications for the Michigan Education Association. She was also an education reporter at the Detroit Free Press.

Hartley joined us today.

Listen to the audio above.

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.

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.

State reviewing finances of Hazel Park schools

Jul 7, 2013

Michigan's top educator has ordered a financial review of the Hazel Park schools, a step that could lead to a state takeover of the suburban Detroit district.

The Detroit Free Press says state schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan wrote Hazel Park Superintendent James Meisinger that he's concerned the district's deficit will reach $3.3 million by month's end. That's up from $1.5 million at the end of June 2012.

A report is due Monday.

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."

Dwight Burdette / wikimedia commons

The Michigan House has given final approval to bills that will allow the state to dissolve small, struggling school districts.

The legislation now goes to Governor Rick Snyder.

The first two districts affected would be Inkster and Buena Vista.

They’re small, losing students, and don’t have enough money to open in the fall. Republicans say the legislation will ensure students have a place to go when classes begin. They also hope it will encourage struggling districts to consolidate.

A few hundred demonstrators rallied in front of the state Capitol today.

They called for more support for public education. They say Republican policies in Lansing to encourage more charter schools and online learning would come at the expense of students in traditional public school classrooms.
Stephanie Keiles is a middle school teacher in the Plymouth-Canton district who helped organize the rally. She says teachers are growing frustrated.

“We just felt like our profession’s been demoralized, that things are being done that are not in the best interest of kids, and we don’t like where everything is headed, and how can we stop it?”

Democratic candidate for governor Mark Schauer was among the speakers who addressed the crowd.

Governor Rick Snyder’s office released a statement that per-student financial support has grown over the past three years since he took office.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Juniors and seniors at Rockford High School will be able to earn up to 30 credit hours at Ferris State University for free in a pilot program announced today.

Say you’re taking calculus at Rockford High School, when you get to college, you could test out of calculus but you wouldn't get any credits.

The pilot program differs from dual enrollment programs.

If a student passes a single calculus class, it will count toward both their high school diploma and their college degree.


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):

Steve Burt 1947 / Flickr

Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity team has been covering the research around early childhood education and the role it plays in a child's development.

That topic was discussed at the 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference this morning.

The Legislature and Governor Snyder have shown interest in boosting early ed programs in the state, but how much should they commit, and what kinds of programs work?

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White led a panel discussion on early education in Michigan.

Watch the discussion below (scroll five minutes in):

Panelists included:

Carla D. Thompson, vice president for program strategy, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Rob Grunewald, economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Bob Harbison, board member, Smart Start Oklahoma

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush says Michigan should pursue more charter schools and online learning as part of the state’s efforts to improve education.

He also asked state lawmakers to stick with common national standards to measure student performance.

The Michigan Legislature’s Republican majorities just approved a school aid budget that forbid spending to enact the Common Core standards developed by the nation’s governors. Some conservatives say the standards hand over Michigan’s education policy to a national consortium.

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.