public schools

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.

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.”

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.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Michigan Medicaid expansion uncertain

Legislation that will determine the future of Michigan Medicaid is at a standstill. On Thursday, the state Senate passed a budget bill that did not include Medicaid although the federal government is offering to pay the state to add hundreds of thousands of people to the program.

Later on Thursday, a Legislative panel heard testimony on a House Republican plan that opts to overhaul the program before expanding it. Senate Republicans say they’re willing to consider the House plan.

Michigan Board of Education asks state to more closely monitor charter schools

The Michigan Board of Education wants to see new laws enacted that would allow the state to more closely monitor the business practices of charter schools. Republican lawmakers are eyeing the request skeptically. The Board has a Democratic majority. The Board’s President, John Austin, stated that the board has a responsibility to keep an eye on all public schools, including charters.

Flint School District will lay off nearly 140 teachers and staff

Next month, the Flint School District is expecting to lay off nearly 140 teachers and staff. This is the latest in a series of cutbacks. Eric Scorsone, an economist with Michigan State University, said this could be the tip of the iceberg. More school districts could topple because of uncertain revenue streams and rising costs. Scorsone says it would take a major shift in school funding and an increase in the state’s sales tax to turn things around.

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.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

An entire school district closing before the school year ends is a bit of a black eye for public education in Michigan.

Just on perception alone, you would think politicians and administrators would jump to fix the problem. Instead, as Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett pointed out, many just put up their hands.

Now, some news of movement.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Buena Vista school district will try to run summer camps to help students affected by the sudden cancelation of classes for the balance of the school year.

That's one of the decisions today from a meeting of state and local education officials.

The shut-down will not stop eligible seniors from graduating, or other students from advancing to the next grade. The district in Saginaw County will try to run four- to six-week camps over the summer break to help students make up what they missed, and prepare for the coming school year.

The money for those camps will not come from the state, but from federal funds.

The Buena Vista district abruptly ceased operations earlier this month. That was after the state cut off aid payments because of debts owed by the district.

Kalkaska schools

No doubt, public schools in Michigan are struggling.

Around 400 students in the Buena Vista school district in Saginaw have been shut out after the district announced they couldn't make payroll.

And it was revealed yesterday that Pontiac schools are close to running out of money and might have to close their doors early.

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.

Will Michigan's next emergency manager operate the Pontiac School District?

More from the Associated Press:

Officials plan to wrap up a review by next month of the Pontiac School District's finances that could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager or other measures.

District officials recently were notified by state Superintendent Mike Flanagan of the preliminary financial review, which is to begin Monday and end by May 24.

In a letter, Flanagan describes the public school district's situation as "critical and alarming."

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.