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Detroit: thin end of the wedge

Governor Rick Snyder's proposal to restructure Detroit Public Schools is carefully framed to emphasize delivering a quality education to underserved children and careful management of finances. But as with so many education policies these days, which claim to focus on the needs of "children, not adults," the reality is quite different.

To no one's great surprise, his plan bears little resemblance to the plan put forward by a broad-based coalition of Detroit stakeholders issued just weeks ago. Instead, the Governor's plan bundles together a number of policy tools which have been spectacular failures when used separately. Perhaps we are to embrace the notion that, in Michigan, three wrongs do make a right?

School Aid Budget - policymaking as theater

The last of three budget proposals for next year was presented in Lansing yesterday. On Wednesday, the Senate appropriations subcommittee on school aid endorsed its chairman's budget proposal, just as the corresponding House committee had done the day before. These two proposals join Gov. Snyder's proposed budget, offered in February. Now we enter the second act.

As is so often the case, the public portion of these proceedings resembles theater more than open discussion. The Governor proposes his budget with much fanfare to a joint meeting of the legislative appropriations committees. Then the subcommittees begin their work, going through the motions of asking invited guests to proffer advice. But during this time, backroom negotiations ensue, out of the pubic eye. This week, to get the budgets off their plates before the legislature's spring break, the subcommittees met again. The results of the backroom negotiations were rolled out, admired, subjected to some pro-forma criticism from the opposing party, and in due course approved and sent on their way to the full appropriations committees. All according to the script. The public was definitely NOT invited to participate. The outcome was never in doubt.

These competing proposals are really the opening offers in a game of political "Pit" which will also take place mostly out of the public eye. No one but well-heeled lobbyists are invited. But we end up living the consequences of the horse-trading we cannot see.

Sign our open letter - state takeover is not the answer

Last week, Governor Rick Snyder unilaterally stripped the Michigan Department of Education of responsibility for intervening in struggling schools.

His executive order moved that responsibility to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, on the specious grounds that DTMB's role in running the state's school database somehow gives them expertise on turning around troubled schools. In fact, as the text of the order makes clear, Gov. Snyder is impatient with MDE - which answers to the elected State Board of Education - for not acting faster to take over schools. So, by moving that authority to DTMB, the governor also places that function directly under his own control.

At MIPFS, we felt this state-takeover system was bad idea from the time it was adopted in a mad rush five years ago. The fact that MDE has not taken over any schools under this provision may be an acknowledgement of what we already know: state takeover is no miracle cure. But instead of taking a better path, such as one we proposed in draft legislation last session, Gov. Snyder is determined to pursue takeover - despite the evident failures of emergency managers and the EAA to make real progress in helping schools struggling with child poverty.

Please join us in objecting to this deeply flawed policy. Follow this link to sign our open letter to Gov. Snyder and state leaders. Takeover by some distant bureaucracy is not the way to help our most vulnerable students. If we let this action stand, what takeover strategy will come next? Please speak out and sign today!

Time to stop using kids' schools as a cookie jar

When does a "supplemental" spending bill not actually supplement anything? When it's a "negative supplemental," of course! (In everyday language, that's a mid-year budget cut.) Who is being "negatively supplemented"? Our children.

It turns out that our state government is in the hole some $532 million for the current year because some tax credit promises to business made years ago are being presented for payment. In characteristic fashion, however, our state government has chosen to partly duck the issue by taking money from - you guessed it - our K-12 public schools. To the tune of $250 million. It's like a rerun of a bad TV sitcom.

Teaching to teach to the test?

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes that we need to improve our country's teacher preparation programs - and that we need to use student growth and achievement data to do it.

For several years now, the US Dept of Education has been discussing proposed rules which would require states to rate their colleges of education and like programs. These ratings would also affect eligibility for Federal dollars. As a part of this effort, USED has wanted to include student test scores ("achievement" and/or "growth" data) as part of the ratings - that is test scores of K-12 students who were taught by recent graduates education degree programs. A special committee, comprised of numerous stakeholders, worked nearly a year to come to agreement on new rules, but was unable to do so. So, the Department has gone ahead with it's own ideas of how the people who teach teachers should be evaluated.

The window to comment on these rules closes 2 February 2015; you can read the details and submit your own comments to Federal regulators via this link. For those who might struggle to find the right words, we reprint our own comments, submitted earlier today, below. We hope that we were able to articulate just a few of the many objections to using standardized test scores in this manner.

Lame Duck 2014: the Final Quack

Wow. That was quite a ride. The state legislature's "lame duck" session ended early Friday morning, with final passage of the complex road funding compromise legislation coming at 5:30am after many hours of frantic negotiation and maneuvering. The road funding package includes some measures which will give meaningful help to public schools, including a net $500 million in new money available for K-12.

Even more important is the list of school-related legislation which did not pass; these measures will have to be reintroduced in the next session to move forward. Teacher and administrator evaluation, A-F school rating, 3rd grade flunking, EAA expansion, and the deficit "early warning" package all failed to become law.

Our story, Part I: What really happened to school funding?

The election's over - can we talk reality now?

For a while, it was gratifying that school funding issues took center stage in the recent election for Michigan's governor. Unfortunately, the amount of spin and, well, dishonesty, left the situation more confusing than before. Now that the election is over, our choices about school funding need to be based on facts, not confusion.

Here are three basic facts that everyone needs to understand. The evidence for them is indisputable:

  • Starting with the 2012 fiscal year, the Governor and Legislature together took away roughly $1 billion that would normally have gone to K-12 education.
  • Schools took a major cut that first year, but they didn't have to: the tax cuts that year made the school cuts necessary.
  • The slow growth in school funding since that first year had nothing to do with the Governor or Legislature or any decisions they made. It was all automatic.

"Come again?" you might say. That's not what we were hearing from all the campaign commercials. But it's the reality we need to come to terms with. So let's go over it in a little more detail. (Go to article >>>)

We need to start telling OUR story


Dear Friends,

mittenLet me tell you a little story about the Mitten & Rabbit. Some twenty years ago, the people of the Mitten (and their northern cousins in the Rabbit) were convinced to try an experiment: to see if they could make their public schools better by introducing competition. At the same time, they also wanted to make sure schools were funded adequately and more fairly than in the past. So the leaders of the Mitten passed laws and made changes to get the experiment started, and they expected that future leaders would closely follow the experiment to see how it was working, and make corrections as needed.

Times changed, the economy worsened, and newer, less experienced, leaders of the Mitten were more concerned about making things cost less than about making them work well. Competition, it turned out, was rigged and didn't help schools improve so much as it allowed some new players to make a profit while existing schools struggled. Funding that was generous in the beginning failed to keep up with rising costs, but leaders were afraid to ask the people to pay more for their community's schools - or to let them do it themselves. And after twenty years, no one had had the courage to see if the experiment was really living up to its promises. The children of the Mitten were the ones who lost the most from this downhill slide, but then they don't vote (or make campaign contributions).

Sound familiar? That's where we find ourselves today. The experiment with competition has not made schools better or stronger; it has taken the public voice out of many supposedly "public" schools and lined the pockets of a few investors. Many people have been conned into believing that you can make schools better by starving them of resources. And as any magician knows, the key to a good trick is to get people to focus their attention somewhere else. (Cont'd...)

MI Parents: Keep the Public in Public Education

Proposals for organization & funding of K-12 education in Michigan

Prepared for State Board of Education, 13 May 2014

Pres. Austin, Supt. Flanagan, and members of the Board:

Preface

Michigan parents value their local public schools and appreciate the hard work being done by all those who bring life to public education. No institution is perfect, and local public education is no exception. But parents are painfully aware of the struggles faced by our schools, driven in part by policy decisions at the state level - which have reduced our direct investment in K-12 education - and in part by changes in the Michigan economy, which have put our families and communities under tremendous stress.

Michigan public education is not "broken;" it has weathered tremendous blows over the last 15 years that have reduced its ability to serve all students as well as we want it to. Any proposals to change the structure and funding of our public schools must address this fundamental fact. >>>>Click below to read more

Who is watching the school "reformers"?

It's hard to talk about education these days without hearing the word "accountability" in nearly every sentence. Teachers should be accountable, administrators should be accountable, and school officials should be accountable. There is no question that the education of our children is a top priority and, yes, the people doing that job should be accountable.

Strange, then, that our state government's one and only strategy to address persistently struggling schools and districts would abandon accountability entirely. Children are already paying the price.

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Current legislation

Coming events

  • House/Sen Schl Aid Approps: State Supt. quarterly report on deficit districts
    3 June 2015 - 8:00am
    Senate Appropriations Committee Room, 3rd Floor Capitol Building, 100 S. Capitol Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48933
    click for more information

In the news

Founder of our Forest Hills affiliate testifies before State Board, 9 May 2013


Our op-ed on the EAA's failure and why the Parent Proposal embodied in HB 5268 is a better alternative. MLive.com, 9 Feb 2014


Our op ed on the push to pass an EAA expansion bill by year end, Free Press, 16 December 2013


Coverage of our testimony against a bill that would tie teacher pay to test scores, 13 May 2013

Republican bill would ignore education, experience in salary decisions for future educators | Mic…

Public letter to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan on crisis in education, 10 May 2013

Michigan parent to Arne Duncan: ‘Our schools are at the breaking point’

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