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MIPFS bill briefs

Short analyses of current education bills by MIPFS staff.

Legislative update: our letter on bill to eliminate State Board of Ed

Dear Chairman Kelly and members of the Committee,

I write to you today regarding House Joint Resolution M, the proposed amendment to the Michigan Constitution which would eliminate the elected State Board of Education and place the Department of Education directly under the authority of the Governor.

Bill brief: They're Baaaaaaack...

As parents and children settle down for the new school year, our lawmakers in Lansing return from their summer break, refreshed and full of ideas. Watch out. This fall session, in between election years, is where a lot of the legislative work gets done - not all of it good. There are a number of new education-related proposals, some of which are moving very quickly. Here's an overview:

  • Back door tax credit vouchers
  • A-F rating of schools - the legislation that wouldn't die
  • A piece of the action - charters could get a share of enhancement millages
  • State takeover writ large - proposal to eliminate State Board of Education
  • Guns in schools revisited

Back-door vouchers for the well-heeled?

Hypocrisy alert: Vouchers for the well-to-do

Among the first pieces of legislation out of the gate after the Legislature's summer recess is a package of bills in the state Senate creating an "enhanced" Michigan Education Savings Plan. This proposal would allow parents to make tax deductible contributions to an account which could be used to pay for K-12 school expenses. (The plan would be an addition to the existing plan which covers post-secondary education.) The bills - SB 544 through SB 549 - were sponsored variously by Senators Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Twp), Phil Pavlov (R-St Clair), Judy Emmons (R-Sheridan), and Mike Green (R-Mayville). The Senate Fiscal Agency summary of the bills as reported from committee can be found here.

Sounds OK, right? A little tax break for setting aside money for those athletic fees? Well, hold on to your wallet. The SFA estimates that the cost to set up the program could reach $100 million, with indeterminate costs after that - on top of tax revenue losses from the deduction. Families could deduct up to $5000 (single return) or $10,000 (joint return) of contributions per account.

Do they really expect parents to believe that they would spend $100 million of taxpayer money and offer deductions of up to $10,000 in contributions just so we could pay for sports fees and field trips?

Budget: House & Senate fire their first shots

[UPDATE: Budget bills as passed by each chamber] Before the April break, the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on school aid issued their alternatives to the budget proposed by Gov. Snyder in February. As expected, many of the innovative provisions included in the Governor's draft have been stripped out of the subcommittee versions. Both legislative versions manage to offer higher foundation allowances while also spending less, in the case of the Senate, than the executive recommendation. The House's proposal is only marginally higher than Gov. Snyder's version. When things like that happen, it's time to check your wallet. We've got the details.

Uncommon Core: your Legislature at work, but for whom?

Our state, like our nation, has something of a split personality on education standards. On the one hand, we all seem to like the idea of going farther, higher, more rigorous. On the other hand, we're suspicious of things "not invented here" and especially things that are not under our own control. Of course, it also depends on what we mean by "our own" control.

A bill now in the Legislature is being presented as banning the Common Core, something appealing to many folks concerned with education. But what's the real motive here?

Some thoughts on the 3rd grade reading bill

A bill intended to promote comprehensive reading intervention services has generated a lot of controversy lately, because of its origins in last session's infamous "third grade flunking" bill. But the proposal is very different this time around, and I wanted to offer some insight into what we at MIPFS have been doing on this issue. As of this writing, we are reserving judgement on the bill but have been working with lawmakers to improve it.

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.

Bill brief: A-F grading of schools

MIPFS response to House Bill 5112, the proposed A-F grading system for Michigan public schools, 13 November 2013

Madam Chair and members of the Committee,

school busesThank you for giving us this opportunity to share with you parent perspectives on evaluating our schools. While this letter mainly speaks to HB 5112, some later comments are also relevant to HB 5111. Other witnesses have discussed the details of the proposed evaluation system, so we do not address them here, except to point out that what we measure indicates what we value, and everyone--parents and citizens alike--value a much wider range of things about our schools than just test scores in two or three subjects. Test scores can tell us a little, but we really need to know more.

That is really the key to our perspective: any effort to sum up the "quality" of a school in one letter grade or color code does not help parents much at all. In fact, letter grades can be even more misleading because they prompt a "gut" reaction even though we might not be sure what they truly mean or measure. "Grading on a curve," specifying the relative percentage of school to receive each grade makes it worse, with the number of top and bottom grades pre-determined.

Bill brief: Teacher & Administrator evaluation

MIPFS testimony on teacher and administrator evaluation bills

We wholeheartedly support fully developed systems to assess and improve the actual practice of teachers and administrators. It may be difficult to predict the impact a teacher will have on any one student, but we can and should build systems that help all educators grow as professionals and make it clear that we expect educators to be partners in the improvement of our schools. The observation tools and other methods of assessing practice are a critically important first step. Even more important is what happens after the evaluation: how do we provide our educators with the knowledge, tools and resources to improve and fine-tune their practice? The bills only touch on this critical work.

Mandating the creation of this kind of observation system without a firm commitment to provide the necessary resources would turn a promising policy into another, hollow, bureaucratic requirement stealing time and resources from our children.

Bill brief: Third grade reading

HB 5111 — Hold back 3rd graders who don’t test proficient in reading

Introduced by Rep. Price; version H-3 reported from House Edu. Cmte.; analysis as of 12/10/2013


Why this deserves your attention:

Helping all children to read, enjoy reading, and read effectively, is one of the central tasks we expect of our public schools. This bill would focus, however, on stigmatizing students, teachers and schools who do not meet an arbitrary deadline for “proficient” reading. Moreover, that “proficiency” measure is based on scores on a state standardized test which has not yet been selected. A companion bill, HB 5144, would identify, but not fund, intervention programs. The Governor’s FY2015 budget proposal makes some existing funding for “at-risk” students available for reading programs, but includes no new funds for this.

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