A New Year for Kids?

Capitol IceIt’s the first day of 2014, and our highest priorities are to kick off the new year with a win by the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL Winter Classic being played in the Big House followed by a convincing win for the MSU Spartans in the 100th Rose Bowl out in Pasadena, CA this afternoon.

But after these important events, the Michigan legislature has some important work to do in January/February 2014 in order to help our students achieve more through public education. Here are the four highest education priorities facing the legislature:

First, the Michigan House of Representatives needs to take up HB 5112, sponsored by House Education Chair Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto), a bill to create a simple A-F Letter Grading system for our schools based primarily on academic achievement and individual student growth. This data-driven, transparent school accountability system will provide meaningful information to parents and stakeholders about school performance. This system, which is being used in 15 states, will be a dramatic improvement over MDE’s current “Rainbow Report Card” system which is so confusing and convoluted that only those with a PhD in psychometrics can understand or explain it. HB 5112 was passed on a bi-partisan basis by the House Education Committee in December and is ready for a vote on the House floor. This bill is being opposed by the entire traditional school establishment (school boards, principals, supertendents, teachers unions, etc), and one can only assume they prefer the current accountability system which is much easier to hide behind.

Second, the House of Representatives needs to pass the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee bills (HB 5111 & HB 5144), sponsored by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Holland) and Rep. Thomas Stallworth III (D-Detroit). These bills will improve early literacy through a comprehensive approach that focuses on early screening and assessment, parental notification and involvement, personalized interventions to help students succeed; and retention as a last resort for those that aren’t proficiently at the end of 3rd grade and don’t meet one of the many “good cause” exemptions. These bills were passed on a bi-partisan basis by the House Education Committee in December and are ready for a vote on the House floor.

Third, the State Senate must finish up work on SB 66 (Proos), a bill to provide additional flexibility for students to enroll in Career and Technical Education (CTE) and other vocational education courses while maintaining the high standards and rigor of the Michigan Merit Curriculum. This bill was heavily debated on the Senate floor in the waning days of session in December and has been sent back to the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair), and is ready for passage so it can be sent to the House of Representatives.

Fourth, the Executive Office is soon to present the FY ’14 School Aid Budget, which includes $13 billion to fund public education for the next school year. Remaining true to the promise of Proposal A, we believe the budget should include an increased focus on the primacy of the per-pupil foundation grant and that additional efforts should be made to narrow the 20% funding equity gap between the basic and minimum foundation grants. There is no reason to continue with more than 150 different per-pupil foundation grants, whereby students in neighboring districts can receive $1,000 more than a student next door. Also, if the state continues to address the high cost of teacher retirement costs — these investments should be extended to all public schools.

These are the policy priorities for early 2014 that will make our K-12 education system more student-focused, and will put our students on a path for success in preparing themselves for college and meaningful careers.

If you’e like more information on any of these issues, please contact me at gnaeyaert@glep.org.