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Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Don’t let the opening days of another school year, or another Michigan win at the Big House, fool you: public education in this state is in steep decline.

Out of the 50 states, Michigan ranks 37th in eighth-grade math and 41st in fourth-grade reading, says the nonpartisan Public Sector Consultants. Strip out the state’s lowest-income students, and fourth-grade reading slips to 48th.

44 percent of Michigan 3rd graders tested proficient in English and Language Arts. The scores for African-American, latino and low-income students were even worse.
Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The 2017 scores for the M-STEP — the standardized test that most students in Michigan take — have been released.

It’s a mixed bag of results, with some promising signs of growth and other areas that clearly need work. M-STEP (the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress) replaced the old MEAP test in 2015. The test is administered online, and it's designed to measure students' knowledge in math, science, social studies, and English language arts.

How many kids are in a typical classroom in Michigan?

That’s a tough question to answer. And believe me, we’ve tried

But a new report from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan gives a clearer picture of class sizes in Michigan’s public schools.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan schools that are failing academically are the focus of a series of legislative hearings kicking off this week.

State Senator Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, chairs the Senate Education committee. He says the state has spent time focusing on developing an early warning for school districts facing financial problems.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It’s the first day of school in much of Michigan.   

Dozens of men stood in the rain at the entrance to Flint’s Northwestern High School greeting students as they stepped off the bus.

From politicians to pastors, the men shook the students’ hands and wished them “good morning”.  

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

School officials are worried about the Legislature’s latest plan to help financially troubled school districts.

The state House Financial Liability Reform committee is expected to take up seven bills on Thursday that would create an early warning system to identify financially troubled schools. The bills would require enhanced deficit elimination plans and increase the cap on emergency loans to school districts.

Broken piggy bank
Images Money / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Here's how the scam works: A Michigan school might get a fake bill for new “Common Core standards aligned” language arts materials. The bill isn't huge; it’s always been reported as $647.50, so it might slip under a school’s radar.

Lisa Dilg works at the Eastern Michigan Better Business Bureau. She says the other reason the scam might work is because the fake invoices closely resemble invoices from a known education materials supplier.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Dozens of high school students have completed a trek from Detroit to Lansing to highlight their concern about ‘zero tolerance’ policies in Michigan schools.

The students say violating even minor ‘zero tolerance’ policies may land them on suspension.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A new Michigan State University survey finds a growing number of school lunch rooms, hospitals cafeterias and other institutions are interested in filling their pantries with locally grown food.

MSU’s Center for Regional Food Systems has been asking institutions about whether they buy locally grown fruits, vegetables and other food staples since 2004.

Center director Michael Hamm says the number of school cafeterias buying local has tripled in the last decade. But he says there’s only so much more local farmers can produce now.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The time-honored tradition of students reciting the Pledge of Allegiance soon could be enshrined into Michigan law - along with a requirement that every public school classroom have a U.S. flag.

The Michigan Legislature has approved the measures with little resistance, and the flag legislation is heading to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk.

user kconnors / morgueFile

A public school district in Oakland County imposed a ten percent pay cut on its teachers retroactive to the start of the school year.

Now it is likely the teachers will sue the district.

Teachers in the Madison Heights school district have been working without a contract for three years. In that time there’s been lots of bargaining, a fact finding mission, mediation - but to no avail.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Senate has approved legislation aimed at expanding prohibitions against sex between school employees and students.

The Senate passed the main bill in a legislative package by a 36-2 vote Tuesday. The legislation advances to the House.

The legislation would make it a crime for school employees such as administrators and teachers to have sex with students even if the student is 18 or older.

Current law sets an age of consent in such cases at 18.

Several elected officials and about a hundred others packed into a small conference room on the University of Michigan campus Monday night to talk about the state’s controversial Emergency Manager Law.

The Emergency Manager panel consisted of three elected Democratic officials: Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, Ann Arbor Representative Jeff Irwin and Washtenaw County Commissioner Conan Smith.

user mconnors / morgueFile

Two award-winning novels are at the center of a book-banning effort in the Plymouth-Canton school district.

One of the books up for review is Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a story about slavery, rape and the effects of trauma.

Meredith Yancy, 16, is reading the book in her Advanced Placement English Literature class at Salem High School. She says she didn’t have a problem with the book’s mature content.

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.

Photo by coopah / morgueFile

Teachers across the state can now apply for grants to help cover transportation costs for field trips.

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs is providing schools with Arts & Culture Trek grants worth $500 to help cover transportation costs.

Stacey Lind is with the Michigan Youth Arts, the group that’ll be distributing the grants. She said there's an approved list of all organizations on their website, which includes "museums, orchestras, performing arts centers, dance organizations, [and] the Detroit Zoo."

Lind said extracurricular activities like field trips are often the first things to go when a school is trying to cut costs:

"Some students never go to the symphony; some students never get to see a live dance performance," said Lind. "These transportation grants provide an opportunity for those students to actually be able to see and experience things  they might never be exposed to in school."

About 100 grants are available, though Lind says more could be on the way.  Each school can qualify for one$500 grant.

Applications are available now through January 16 for field trips between March and May of 2012.

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.

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.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

For most Michigan kids, today is the first day back to school.  And many are taking backpacks full of school supplies. They are not required to take school supplies. By state law the public schools are to supply everything students need for class. 

When you add it all up, the new school clothes, gym shoes, and all those binders, crayons, paper, pens and pencils, back-to-school shopping is big business.

“It’s really become probably the second biggest shopping period of the year, right behind Christmas.”

That’s Tom Scott with Michigan Retailers Association. One national estimate puts back-to-school shopping at about 16 percent of retail business in a year. It’s difficult to separate just how much of that is actual school supplies and not clothes or computers. 

The school districts always put out a long list of things kids might need for school and parents start hunting.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will make an appearance in Detroit this week, just days after a visit from President Obama. It's part of a three-day “Education and the Economy” tour Secretary Duncan is taking through the Midwest.

midnight_peace89 / flickr

A new state Web site goes live tomorrow that will give parents better access to information about Michigan schools. The Web site, mischooldata.org, will compile data that parents used to have to hunt for in different places.

Tom Howell of the Center for Educational Performance and Information says eventually there will be more information available – like graduation rates, and how well high schools are preparing students:

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate may soon consider bills to make it easier to fire veteran teachers.   The state House has already passed the bills.  

Tim Melton / Tim Melton

All teachers in Michigan may be evaluated based on the success of their students.

That’s the goal of legislation introduced by state representative Tim Melton this week. He wants student achievement to be 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Health clinics based inside 3 Grand Rapids high schools will get $2.6 million over the next five years. Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids Schools, and the Michigan Department of Community Health pay for the program. The state is expected to announce grants for other school clinic programs soon.

Lisa Lowery is a primary care doctor at Spectrum Health. She shows off the health clinic’s laboratory, patient rooms, and the dental clinic. A high school senior getting his teeth cleaned gives us a thumbs up.

“It’s just not ‘oh here’s an ice pack’ cause you hurt your knee.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Senate handed a complete state spending plan over to the state House today.

That leaves just a couple more steps before the budget bills go to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval.

The arguments on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature have been cyclical in recent weeks; Republicans have offered up departmental spending plans with deep cuts, and Democrats have said the cuts help businesses and hurt working poor families and children.

When talking about the K-12 schools budget, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said:

"Amidst a long day of voting on bad budgets, we find ourselves looking at the absolute worst of the worst."

The K-12 schools budget makes additional cuts in per-pupil funding with the possibility of offsetting those cuts by consolidating services and by encouraging other Republican-proposed “best practices.”

Overall the complaints of Democrats have had little impact on the budget process. The party lacks enough votes to get in the way of a budget that has thus-far rolled quickly through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

It appears any debate on this budget will be over by early next week.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers may be closing in on a compromise plan related to education spending.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Wednesday negotiators are working on a proposal that would lessen the projected cuts to K-12 school funding.

Gov. Rick Snyder in February proposed cutting per-student funding by an additional $300 in the next budget year. The developing revised plan would provide $100 per student to all districts to offset or restore part of that cut. The cut could be reduced by another $100 per student if districts adopt so-called "best financial practices."

The proposal would cut university funding by 15 percent and community college funding by 4 percent.

Richardville stressed negotiators are still working toward the possible agreement. Talks are continuing between Senate, House and Snyder administration leaders.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state House Education committee has approved a bill that would decertify a teachers’ union if the teachers vote to go on strike.  Individual teachers could also be fined or fired under the legislation.  It’s illegal for teachers to strike in Michigan. 

Doug Pratt is with the Michigan Education Association.    He says state lawmakers want to silence teachers.

michigan/gov

In a speech at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan's office in Detroit this morning, Governor Snyder laid out his plans for reforming Michigan's education system.

It's a system that Snyder said needs to be transformed from one "still rooted in the days of a mostly farm-based society to one that prepares students for the technological age of today and jobs of tomorrow."

Snyder says the need for reform is clear. In a message to the state legislature that outlined his broad plans, he noted the following statistics:

  • A total of 238 Michigan high schools have zero college-ready students based on the spring 2010 ACT test
  • Only 16% of all students statewide are college-ready based on the ACT taken in spring 2010 as a part of the MME
  • Fewer than 50% of students are proficient in writing based on fall 2010 MEAP data in grades 4 and 7 and spring 2010 Michigan Merit Examination (MME) data for grade 11
  • Michigan ranks 21st in the country in total current expenditures per-pupil, yet it ranks 39th in the nation when it comes to fourth grade math proficiency and 34th in reading proficiency

Here's a summary of Snyder's education plan:

Governor Rick Snyder offered some hints as to what his soon-to-be unveiled education reform plan will look like.

The governor addressed an education conference in East Lansing today.

Governor Snyder says student test scores are both “startling and scary,” and that Michigan is falling behind the country and the world in preparing young people for life after school:

“We need to do better and that’s something we need to focus on and we will,” said Snyder.

The governor says he wants to relax school regulations s to give teachers and principals more freedom and responsibility over educational decisions. And then he says the state will measure what happens:

“We need to put much more focus on proficiency, on growth, on measurements and results than we have had in the past," he said. "It’s about really delivering results for these kids. The whole system has to be geared to say, 'how do we make sure each and every child in our system gets a good year’s education each and every year?' Think about all the great talent, all the great resources that we have in our system, yet we’re not achieving the results that we have to achieve."

The governor also says he wants to do more to keep gifted teachers in classrooms instead of promoting them into administrative positions.

The governor says he envisions an education system that starts with pre-school and continues past college.

The governor will roll out his education reform agenda on Wednesday in Detroit.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

It appears Michigan may be in for a revenue windfall of about $500 million dollars more than  it was expected to take  in this year.

The state Senate Democratic leader says Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature should use that money to avert cuts to schools.

The state Senate Democratic leader is calling for protections in the Michigan Constitution against using the School Aid Fund for any purpose other than K-through-12 education.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says she’s looking for any way she can to avert school aid cuts as high as $470 per student.

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