This Week & Next (Feb 21, 2014)

She could have picked any city, but she chose Detroit

ICYMI (because we did): Here’s an inspiring Detroit News story about Kyle Smitley, a 29-year old Ohio native who launched Detroit Achievement Academy, a new charter public school. If we had more passionate educational entrepreneurs like Ms. Smitley, we’d be closing the academic achievement gap in a hurry!  Good luck, Kyle and DAA!! Tip: This is the school Ellen DeGeneres put on her show twice!

A Tale of Two Cities

For an interesting (or frustrating) look at how charter public schools are being treated (or mis-treated) in Chicago and New York City, check out the “Killing the Golden Goose” feature story from The Economist that highlights the differing approaches from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Mayor Bill de Blasio on charter public schools.

Funding Equity Focus at Senate Subcommittee

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12, School Aid & Education continued their examination of equity in school funding at this week’s hearing.  GLEP’s Gary Naeyaert picked up where he left off last week by reinforcing our priorities of funding kids equally. Please email if you’d like a copy of our complete presentation.

FY '15 Budget Recommendations

Public Money for Private Schools, Really?!?!

Did you know that $57.6 million in school aid funds is going to 285 public school districts providing instruction to up to 40,000 non-public students this year?  While Michigan’s Constitution forbids direct payment of state funds to non-public (private or parochial) schools, there is a long-standing practice in the state that results in state funds being used to teach private school children. The respected Citizen’s Research Council recently published a report on how public school money is being used for private school students through “shared services.”  CRC notes the Brighton Public Schools takes in over $3.1 million per year for non-public students enrolled part-time with the district. Since the state allows this practice for elective courses, is it such a stretch that shared services could be used for all courses? What are your thoughts?

House Committee Gets Chippy on Teacher Evaluations

On Wednesday the House Education Committee continued to take testimony on a package of bills that would significantly change the state’s teacher and administrator evaluation system. There was plenty of testy back and forth exchanges between lawmakers and those giving testimony.  GLEP is officially neutral on the bills, although we remain concerned these bills will take us two steps backwards in terms of Teacher Tenure Reforms passed a few years ago, and we’re not comfortable with the state assessment being mandated in this bill.

Expanding Choice Through Vouchers in Arizona and Mississippi

An Arizona legislative committee has passed a measure to expand eligibility for the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account Program, which allows public funds to be used for a private education. Meanwhile, Mississippi lawmakers in both chambers approved landmark legislation this week (SB 2325 and HB 765) to create a state voucher worth more than $6,000 for parents who withdraw their special education student from a Mississippi public schools.  GLEP believes all parents deserve to choose the best school that fits their child’s needs – whether public, charter, private, virtual or home school.

ACLU Supports Improving Early Literacy

This week, the ACLU’s Kary Moss penned a guest editorial in Bridge Magazine citing a recent study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation lamenting the fact that only 31% of 4th graders students in the state (and only 19% of low income students) are proficient readers. The ACLU is also involved in a lawsuit against the Highland Park Public Schools for failing to faithfully implement current law which requires districts to take active steps to bring non-proficient 3rd readers to proficiency within one year. We couldn’t agree more, and this is further evidence of the need for passing the 3rd Grade Reading bills supported by GLEP (HB 5111 & HB 5144). We’re working to get these bipartisan bills passed in the House during March, which is Reading Month (coincidence?).

Our Priorities: Snow Days vs. Basketball Games

One has to wonder about our state’s priorities when the requirement for students to attend a minimum of 170 days of instruction each year is really only 164 days since MDE allows schools to cancel up to 6 days without any penalty. There was a time when schools would schedule more than the required number of days and adjust at the end of the year based on how many days were actually cancelled. GLEP believes our children need at least 170 days of instruction, and we agree with Bridge Magazine story this week about how some districts cancel classes by still hold basketball games. We applaud those superintendents who put academics first.

Greedy is as Greedy Does

Parents and students from Ferndale Public Schools showed up in Lansing Wednesday to lobby legislators for additional school funding.  Let’s forget the fact these students missed another day of instruction to be used as pawns in adult political battles. For the record, Ferndale is one of the highest-funded districts in the state at $7,758 per pupil, which is $700 more than the minimum foundation grant received by a majority of districts in the state. Good strategy!

What to do with Failing Schools?

In an unexpected move this week, Superintendent Mike Flanagan exercised MDE’s ability to terminate the exclusive agreement with the EAA to operate schools in the State Reform/Recovery School District. While the EAA will remain an option, MDE may also look to proven school turnaround experts, charter school management companies or Intermediate School Districts to manage these failing schools. Meanwhile, legislators continue to grapple with a bill to codify EAA in state law. Here’s a story from Tim Skubick and WLNS TV-6. GLEP’s position is that any chronically failing school that would require placement in the State Reform District should simply be closed.

Breaking the Monopoly in Washington, D.C.

A recent article from the Washington Post confirms that only 25% of students currently attend their government-assigned school while 75% exercise some form of school choice in Washington, D.C.  This is great news for children and families, as they need the right to choose the school that best suits their needs. It is through a vibrant and competitive “system of schools”, rather than a single school system, that we will improve achievement and opportunity for all kids.

Next Week

Monday, February 24

  • Meetings with key education stakeholder groups to review current issues

Tuesday, February 25

  • Meeting with Rep. Bill Rogers, Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid, to discuss the FY ’15 School Aid Budget
  • Joint House & Senate Appropriations Subcommittees to review districts in financial distress
  • Michigan Coalition for High School Standards meeting to discuss status of student assessments

Wednesday, February 26

  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12, School Aid & Education will continue hearing testimony on FY ’15 School Aid Budget, and the focus this week will be early childhood funding
  • House Education Committee to continue taking testimony on teacher evaluation (HB 5223)
  • Senate Education Committee to take up SB 644 (Hildenbrand), a bill to address enrollment at strict discipline academies
  • Citizens for Traditional Values: 20th Annual Legislative Briefing
  •  “Leadership Barry County” event hosted by Rep. Mike Callton: GLEP to participate in mock legislative committee hearing in support of 3rd Grade Reading bills

Thursday, February 27

  • Meeting with Rep. Shirkey to discuss A-F Letter Grading and 3rd Grade Reading
  • Meetings with Rep. Dillon & Senator Papageorge to discuss FY ’15 School Aid Budget
  • House & Senate Appropriations Subcommittees: Quarterly MDE report on deficit districts

Friday, February 28

  • TEDX Lansing: While this event is sold out, a live-stream is available from 12-5pm

That’s it for “This Week & Next.” Let’s keep putting kids first!!

Gary G. Naeyaert
Executive Director