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Now for another episode of "Lansing Knows Best!"

House Bill 4369 (the "EAA expansion bill") passed the state House of Representatives late last Thursday. After close to two hours of maneuvering and floor speeches, it passed by the thinnest of margins: 56-54. The bill now goes back to the Senate either for its approval or for more changes.

Why is this legislation so important - and so dangerous? This bill is not just about the EAA - in fact, the EAA is not even mentioned by name in the document (though it does allow the EAA to continue and expand). Its impact would be much more sweeping if it becomes law.

This legislation would enshrine state takeover as the best and (nearly) only way to "help" students in struggling schools. On top of that, the bill opens the door for many different organizations to run such schools on behalf of the state - they might be like the EAA (because that has gone so well), or they might be for-profit charter management companies. Both the Governor and the state Superintendent have said they want more "options" for state takeover. That should make us all feel much better.

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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First look: Snyder election year budget

At first glance, there are a number of things to like about Gov. Snyder's budget proposal in this election year - which is hardly surprising, since he launched his reelection campaign at the same time he released his budget. Several of those things even stand up to closer scrutiny. But all this is against a background of real austerity in K-12 education, so that the executive budget proposal is a bit like having the vise around your head loosened after a long period of tightening: it's a relief, but you are still in the vise.

Highlights

  • Districts will get a per-pupil increase between $83 and $111 per pupil, but this still lags inflation.
  • Most of that increase is made possible by the fact that there are fewer students in Michigan schools this year than originally expected, and the same applies next year.
  • The biggest increases are in the payments for unfunded liability of the state pension system.
  • Per-pupil funding left after pension payments are covered has fallen 22% over the last 12 years, after inflation.
  • Economic recovery is bringing a modest increase in revenues earmarked for the School Aid Fund, but no new revenue sources are being made available to schools.
  • Even though the state's General Fund is projected to have a much larger increase in revenue, the School Aid Fund continues to pay for some $400 million in higher education costs that used to be covered entirely by the General Fund.
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Action alert: Stories from EAA get worse, state still wants to expand

Once again, we are asking for your help. Our state is on the verge of compounding a terrible mistake by making it even bigger. As you might guess, I'm referring to the so-called Education Achievement Authority, an agency engineered by the Governor and billionaire donors to take over struggling schools and wave a magic wand over them. It started with 15 schools in Detroit, and the Legislature is nearing a vote on whether to take it to the "big time" state wide.

Only we're too old to believe in magic, and the EAA's work in Detroit has been a disaster rather than a miracle. This experiment should be ended, for the sake of the children in those schools. We should not base our state's entire program for helping struggling schools on a failed experiment that many call "educational malpractice." There are real alternatives, which can produce constructive change. Our "Parent Proposal" is just such an alternative, and there is now pending legislation which would take our state in a better direction.

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A better way to help schools improve

Proposed legislation offers parent proposal to assist struggling schools

For years, the tag line of our messages to school advocates has been: "together, we can make a difference." Well, today is proof that together we have made a difference.

Legislation introduced today in the Michigan House of Representatives would enact the "Parent Proposal to Assist Struggling Schools," a policy recommendation developed by MIPFS after extensive consultations with parent group leaders, educators, policy experts, and advocates like you.

"One rogue school board member"

This is how a legislator described a close colleague and dear friend of mine: "one rogue school board member." The school board member in question is Elizabeth Welch Lykins, trustee of the East Grand Rapids Public Schools, committed proponent of strong public education, and member of the MIPFS board of directors. Though she was not singled out by name, every person knew who was being described.

"One rogue school board member." The phrase itself is designed to belittle and marginalize. But it fails in that attempt, because it is so disconnected from the truth.

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A Parent Proposal to Assist Struggling Schools

Strategies to turn around troubled schools need to address specific local challenges and be owned by the local school and district community


With the recent push to pass a bill on the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) before the winter 2013 legislative break, it’s more important than ever that parents start talking about real alternatives that work. For the last year, MIPFS has worked with parent groups, educational leaders and lawmakers to develop a positive program that will actually help struggling schools. This article outlines our proposal.

Existing law does not provide enough assistance to local schools in diagnosing and solving their difficulties. To compound the problem, the law provides for complete state takeover as the only remedy for schools which fail to improve. The parents’ alternative is based on these core ideas:

  • Any effective school improvement strategy must focus on the particular circumstances of the school or district that is a candidate for intervention, and be tailored to address local needs and shortcomings.
  • Diagnosis of educational problems is best done by experienced and disinterested specialists, but the solutions to those problems will be most durable if they are hammered out and implemented by all relevant stakeholder groups.
  • Unilateral state intervention must be a last resort, and must be focused solely on implementing the changes identified as necessary in the independent review.
  • The goal of state intervention for school improvement is not to take over management of the school but to identify and see implemented educational and organizational changes, which are critical to the long-term growth of student achievement.
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Who has "fact issues"?

Gov. Rick Snyder claims that that he and his administration have been investing in kids, that there has been “no reduction” in state support for K-12 education.

He says that “it’s not about partisanship, let’s just do the right thing.” We agree with those sentiments: support for strong, community-governed public education should not be a partisan issue, and we should definitely “do the right thing.” We’re still waiting for the governor to propose, and the legislature to pass, a budget that does right by the children of Michigan.

Gov. Snyder then goes on to say that people who argue he’s been cutting K-12 education “have fact issues.” But it is the governor’s facts which need a second look.

Bottom line: Gov. Snyder’s budgets took advantage of the depth of the recession to dig the hole even deeper in the first year to accomplish business tax cuts and other changes, allowing the weak recovery in subsequent years to look much better by comparison – but only if you ignore what things were like before or what things might have been like today had different choices been made. Between the end of earmarked school aid revenue from the Michigan Business Tax, and the diversion of funds to pay for colleges and universities, K-12 schools lost over $1.1 billion, or nearly $740 per pupil, each year because of the changes Gov. Snyder pushed through in 2011.

When did we become the enemy?

MIPFS and affiliated groups’ statement on the latest “skunk works” revelations

The evidence is piling up that the Snyder administration was closely involved in the effort to construct an alternative “education” system whose top priority is to minimize public school costs, not improve education. According to emails obtained by the Detroit News, top advisers to Gov. Snyder helped put the so-called “skunk works” group together or approved of its creation as early as September 2012.

From the parent perspective, one of the most disturbing discoveries was a statement by Gov. Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore. “Frankly, there’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing the education community in a fratz,” Muchmore wrote not long after the “skunk works” story first broke.

Thousands of parents, educators, and other concerned citizens who care about quality public education expressed their outrage at the secrecy and narrow vision of the “skunk works” project. Since when did we become the enemy? What kind of distorted lens must members of the Snyder administration be using that they see in concerned parents an opponent to be overcome rather than a constituency to be heard?

Open letter to Sec. Arne Duncan

We released this open letter on the occasion of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s visit to southeast Michigan. Sec. Duncan visited two schools in Detroit, one of them an EAA school, and the Perry Child Development Center in Ypsilanti. Our letter points out the conflict between the educational values Sec. Duncan has espoused, and which are the foundation of Perry’s High/Scope model, and the urgent direction of education policy in Michigan.



Open Letter to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Dear Secretary Duncan,
On behalf of Michigan parents and others concerned about public education here, I would like to welcome you to our state. Michigan is home to some of the best ideas and programs in education as well as some of the most serious challenges our schools, and communities, face. We welcome your effort to learn more about the hopes we cherish and the obstacles we confront in our local efforts to educate our children.

Unfortunately, I fear that your tour may leave you with an incorrect impression of what is in fact happening in our state. The current direction of state policy is not to offer an excellent education to all children. Instead, key Michigan policy makers have adopted an extremely narrow and barren notion of “education” and have focused on how to deliver it at the lowest cost possible. These proposals take us in precisely the wrong direction.

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In the news

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


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