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Death watch for our public schools?

The Muskegon Heights “model,” where education is turned over to charter schools and the local district remains as a shell to pay off the district’s debt, looks to be spreading to Highland Park as well. Is this an omen? What can we do?

Comparing the 2013 school aid budgets [Update: includes final conference report]

Budget bill main provisions: final conference report compared to Governor's proposal and House and Senate versions

End of the last illusions

Past commitments to school aid fade away

Updated with final conference report

None of the school aid budget proposals for next year offer significant help to our struggling local school districts. Overall funding is essentially flat, though the dollars are allocated differently in the various proposals. For a detailed breakdown of the final budget and the alternatives as passed by each chamber, please see this companion story.

Nevertheless, the budget bills do outline some major changes in how we fund our schools:

  • Use of the School Aid Fund to support community colleges and state universities is now a permanent feature (the final conference report includes intent language to change the name of the SAF to the “Comprehensive Education Fund”);
  • The commitment to maintaining the funding stream for K-12 education has been seriously eroded – for example, with the failure to replace earmarked revenue lost when the Michigan Business Tax was ended.
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By the numbers: the Snyder education budget

When is an increase not really an increase? When it’s an election year budget.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal for the 2012-13 fiscal year was much anticipated, but its introduction was something of an anti-climax. In his budget presentation to the Legislature, the Governor described his proposals for K-12 education as a small but solid increase in funding. Other observers, looking closely at the numbers, begged to disagree. Regardless, the governor’s budget proposal makes the recent, much-reduced funding levels permanent. What little room there is for increased funding will be occupied by incentive payments: financial carrots intended to encourage what the governor calls “best practices.” Perhaps most important, it is clear that the Snyder Administration intends to lay to rest the idea that the School Aid Fund should be reserved for K-12 education.

UPDATE: This article describes the Governor’s “executive recommendation” for the budget; versions passed out of both the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees will be analyzed in a forthcoming article.

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Cyber school expansion bill heads to House floor

In a sometimes contentious session, the House Education committee today passed legislation that would remove most limits on the number and size of online charter schools — called “cyber schools” in Michigan. The bill, Senate Bill 619, removes the restrictions set on the number and enrollment of cyber schools when they were first allowed in legislation passed two years ago. The bill, passed by the Senate last fall, faces an uncertain future in the House.

A surplus for schools? Don't hold your breath

The latest projections show that revenue to the state School Aid Fund, which supports K-12 education in Michigan, will increase 2.7% next year, compared to a 4.3% drop this year. But will local public schools get a funding increase? There will be a lot of politics at work between now and the start of school next fall, and little can be taken for granted. While Governor Snyder is likely to use any school aid surplus to make one-time “pay for performance” payments, there is significantly less money available to do that this year.

Legislative alert: "charter school package" could dramatically undermine our schools



Dear supporters of public education,

Much-anticipated legislation was introduced today that would dramatically reshape the public school landscape in Michigan. We cannot afford to wait and see how the legislative process works itself out - we must start making our voices heard now. Use the Michigan Parents for Schools advocacy system to contact your Senator!

The four-bill package, driven by co-sponsor Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Claire), was just made available to the public today - coinciding with the start of hearings on these bills in the Senate Education committee.

The bills can only be described as an assault on traditional public schools in this state.

Historical Amnesia: Schools don't need that money, do they?

Talk of an ever-growing flow of money to schools is, like many such things, wildly exaggerated. But it does serve to frame the debate about school funding in such a way that cutting schools seems only “fair.”

We started to hear it during the debate over next year’s state budget. Lawmakers backing the governor’s budget responded to constituents worried about cuts to K-12 schools with two, oddly contradictory, palliatives: that money for schools continued to “pour in” even though there were fewer students; and that “getting spending in line with reality means understanding our lack of revenue.” Sometimes these earnest-sounding claims were in the same paragraph.

The most recent example of this effort to depict schools as awash in cash comes in an interview of State Budget Director John Nixon by the AP’s Kathy Barks Hoffman.

Close look: Teacher evaluation provisions

Among the least discussed, and arguably most important, aspects of the “tenure bills” which recently became law are the provisions mandating new teacher evaluation systems and creating a process to identify a model which most districts in Michigan will have to use.

This article provides an in-depth look at the teacher and administrator evaluation provisions in the law, highlighting some of the choices legislators made which reflect their views of teachers and educators in general. Attached to the article is a table comparing provisions in the final legislation with a separate bill on evaluation systems from which it derived.

MIPFS believes that it’s critically important for parent activists and others to be aware of these changes and the impact they are likely to have on our schools.

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Legislative Update: Tenure Bills, "A Solution Worse than the Problem"

6/27: See our update in the comment section about the bills as reported from committee. The full Senate will be voting soon….

Last week, the state House of Representatives approved a package of bills that would remake the teacher tenure process, change the rules regarding seniority, and enforce a state-wide teacher evaluation framework that would guide promotion and firing decisions. While the bills individually appear to address reasonable concerns about the difficulty of disciplining tenured staff and the “last-in-first-out” system used for layoffs, taken together they have the potential to do tremendous damage to our public schools.

School districts would have to move quickly to institute a comprehensive evaluation system which relies primarily on standardized tests – tests which do not yet exist for most grades or subject areas. The burden on administration would increase exponentially, with no added resources to make sure the evaluations are performed effectively. Teachers would have no guaranteed voice in the construction of evaluation systems, since the bills would prohibit collective bargaining on those issues. Finally, the changes would, in our view, create a powerful incentive for principals and administrators – who face unrelenting budget pressures – to bias performance evaluations so that it would be easier to remove senior, more expensive teachers regardless of their actual performance. As a result, Michigan Parents for Schools cannot support this legislation and calls on the state Senate to defeat the bills.

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