The School Choice Landscape May Soon Be Rocked to Foundation

The tectonic plates under Michigan’s school choice landscape may be shifting, with school choice reality as we know it ready to shift.

The United States Supreme Court recently announced their intention to hear oral arguments in a case called Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.  The outcome of the case could overturn laws in 37 states – including Michigan – rooted in anti-Catholic bigotry to prevent families, particularly families of faith, from fairly accessing the education of their choice for their kids.
 
The hateful rules are called Blaine Amendments, after 19th century politician James Blaine, who used these laws to promote an anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant agenda. More than 100 years after their inception, and nearly 50 years since Michigan adopted its own version, the Supreme Court could soon take a stand.
 
It’s one of the most important school choice and religious liberty issues in modern U.S. history.  Keep reading to learn a little more, and to join the fight for every student’s rights, no matter their personal faith.
/campaigns/sitesapi/files/images/648799522/BethDeShoneSignature_sm.pngBeth DeShone
Executive Director, Great Lakes Education Project
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Detroit News:Jacques: Could this be a school choice game changer?

“We hope the court will continue to guarantee our constitutional rights and freedoms when it considers a case about the ‘last acceptable prejudice,’” DeVos told the crowd at last month’s Mackinac RepublicanLeadership Conference. “I’m referring to the bigoted Blaine amendments that restrict the freedom of the family to decide the best educational environment for their children ‘simply because of what it is’ — a faith-based education.” 
“Resistance to (Governor William Milliken’s) proposal (to provide aid to Catholic and private schools), referred to as ‘parochiaid,’ stoked the flames of bigotry. ‘I have never witnessed such anti-Catholic sentiment in my life,’ one state senator observed.”
“The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue. Montana is 1 of 37 states with what is known as a “Blaine amendment” in their constitutions. These were named after the 19th century U.S. politician, James Blaine, who championed them to win the anti-immigrant vote. They were designed specifically to prevent public dollars from underwriting Catholic education, even as Protestant Bible readings and prayers were commonplace in state-funded public schools at the time.” 
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The Supreme Court’s upcoming hearing in the Espinoza case could turn the page on decades of anti-religious bigotry in the way Michigan and the rest of the nation funds education.

 
Overturning hateful and harmful Blaine amendments would free up states to invest in students, no matter where they go to school or what their faith or the faith of their parents.  That means newer and better educational options for every Michigan student, at no additional cost to taxpayers.
 
We begin every education policy discussion by asking a simple question– what’s in the best interest of students? Empowering them with new educational options – especially those students currently trapped in schools that may not be working for them – is the first step state government can take to put students first.
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You can stay up-to-date on the Espinoza case, the action in the Supreme Court, and the fight to defend Michigan students by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.
Parents deserve A-F school report cards, but Michigan has gone 50 days without following the law. Please contact the State Board of Education and ask them to implement A-F letter grades for all Michigan schools, as required under the law!


Whitmer Slashes Funding for Most Public School Students in Detroit, Minority Students

Governor Gretchen Whitmer last week wielded her veto pen as a vicious weapon against kids in Detroit and the public school teachers who dedicate their lives to educate them.

The Governor last Monday callously slashed $240 in annual per-pupil funding for the majority of students in the City of Detroit, and in public schools that disproportionately serve minority students and students from low-income families. 

While Whitmer was taking money from public schools and public school teachers serving kids in some of the hardest-to-reach neighborhoods in the state, she signed a budget boosting funding for wealthy suburban schools. It was a deeply personal and troubling attack on many of the Michigan children who need help the most.

We’re not taking this attack lying down. Instead, we’re standing up for Michigan public school students. We hope you’ll join us.

/campaigns/sitesapi/files/images/648799522/BethDeShoneSignature_sm.pngBeth DeShone
Executive Director, Great Lakes Education Project
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“For the budget items she vetoed, Whitmer will have to resume negotiations with lawmakers on how to reallocate that money. She also will need the Legislature if she hopes to put in place a long-term plan to finance accelerated road work

“The hostility she’s generated with her petulant approach to the budget process makes both tasks more difficult.”
“According to state data, 75% of Michigan charter school students are eligible for free or reduced lunches, and so are deemed “at risk” students. In contrast, just 47% of the students enrolled in conventional district schools are in that category.”

GLEP:Whitmer Slashes Funding for Most Students in Detroit, Boosts Funding for Wealthy, Suburban Schools

“While cutting funding for minority, urban, and low-income public school students, Whitmer approved funding increases for students in high-income suburban schools.”
Whitmer Slashes Funding for Most Students in Detroit, Boosts Funding for Wealthy Schools
“Governor Whitmer wielded her veto pen as a vicious weapon against kids in Detroit and the public school teachers who dedicate their lives to educate them,” said GLEP Executive Director Beth DeShone. “There’s no need to mince words. The Governor has callously and specifically attacked minority students, learners from low-income families, and public school kids in Detroit and urban neighborhoods.”

While cutting funding for minority, urban, and low-income public school students, Whitmer approved funding increases for students in high-income suburban schools.

It was a devastating attack on roughly 150,000 Michigan public school students.

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Whitmer’s cut will disproportionately hurt those who need it most.

Her attack on minority students and their public school teachers came early last week through a line item veto of K-12 per pupil funding for public school students. 

Fifty-three percent of students in Detroit attend public charter schools. Seventy-five percent of students in public charter schools qualify for federal lunch subsidies, compared to less than half of students in traditional public schools.

Every child deserves a high quality education, regardless of his or her zip code, and students from low-income families deserve as much help as anyone. The Governor is wrong to penalize public school students and their public school teachers.

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Call Governor Whitmer today at (517) 335-7858 to demand she reverse course on her devastating cut to Michigan’s public schools.
 
If you, a friend, student, or loved-one would like more information on how to get involved at the state Capital, please contact Beth DeShone at bdeshone@glep.org.


Legislature Answers the Bell, Increases Funding for Michigan Students

Last week the Michigan House and Senate announced plans to increase the state’s per-pupil school funding by up to $240 per student. The nearly $400 million budget jump for Michigan’s schools is great news for public school teachers and for the students they’re educating. It’ll mean opportunities for more programs, newer supplies, and higher wages.

 
Thankfully, lawmakers have consistently increased K-12 funding, setting new records with each year’s budget. When it comes to our kids, parents know we can never do enough.
 
That’s why at GLEP we strongly support a broad package of potential reforms to empower parents and deliver the best possible education for every Michigan student.
/campaigns/sitesapi/files/images/648799522/BethDeShoneSignature_sm.pngBeth DeShone
Executive Director, Great Lakes Education Project
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“GOP legislators … plan to increase school funding by nearly $400 million, boosting base per-student aide by between $120 and $240, and to spend $120 million to protect drinking water.”

“I believe parents are the first teachers of their children and just like so many other things, parents get to decide,” she said, citing important decisions related to health and nutrition. “School is just another thing where I think parents are the best (ones) to make that decision for their families.”

The 74 Million:Kimball: Working Together, Universities and Charter Schools Can Achieve More for Students

“What charter opponents fail to see is a simple truth: Public education is too complex for there to be one “solution” to the challenges our schools face in educating kids. Students’ needs are simply too diverse and changing, and their success is simply too important to depend on a single answer to meet each student’s needs.”
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Creative Funding Reforms Could Help Kids Get the Education They Deserve

Transportation scholarships, foundation allowance equity, education savings accounts (or ESAs) and even so-called 529 plans empower parents to secure the best possible education for their children.

 
What do they all have in common? Each of these public education funding innovations would help ensure students receive the funding they deserve to meet their unique educational needs. What’s more, each of these ideas funds students – not schools.
 
Thanks to federal reforms achieved at the national level, Michigan residents can already contribute to something called a “529 plan” (named after Section 529 of the IRS code) to help invest and prepay for their kids’ (or relatives’) college education and K-12 educational expenses.
 
Transportation scholarships and education savings accounts represent the next great opportunities here at the state level to ensure public education is targeted towards meeting the unique needs of unique students.
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Every child deserves a high quality education, regardless of his or her zip code. Across the state, public schools – including public charter schools – are innovating and specializing to meet the unique needs of unique students. We need to tear down barriers built by the adult-bureaucracy that too often stands between our kids and these innovative options.

 
The legislature’s commitment to increasing K-12 funding in this year’s budget is fantastic. For our kids’ sake, let’s take the next steps.
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If you would like to get involved in the fight to secure fair funding for every Michigan student, and support reforms like transportation scholarships, foundation allowance equity, or are currently using a 529 plan for K-12 education expenses, we would love to hear your story! Please email your name and a few details to bdeshone@glep.org.


Promote 529s that Cover K-12 Education, Invest in Michigan Schools

The summer is now squarely in the rearview mirror and schools everywhere are back in session.  For parents, it can be a relief getting the kids back to class – and getting all of those back-to-school preparations knocked off the to-do list.  We’re eager to see our children learn, to grow, and to succeed.

That’s why we buy the school supplies, sign up for the PTA meetings, and help them with their homework.  It’s also why a parent is never done preparing for their children’s future.
 
September is College Savings Month, and state officials are holding events highlighting 529 plans – a great resource that can help parents plan for their kids’ future learning while gaining a tax break.  Keep reading to learn how 529s aren’t only for higher education anymore, and why we’re asking you to learn more about how they can help parents fund kids’ K-12 schooling, too!
/campaigns/sitesapi/files/images/648799522/BethDeShoneSignature_sm.pngBeth DeShone
Executive Director, Great Lakes Education Project
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“Gabriela Chulevski, K-2 principal at Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, says it’s especially helpful to collaborate with other charters that face similar issues, such as chronic absenteeism.
 
“How are you overcoming students who might have been absent for a week?” she said, describing the questions she’d like to ask other school leaders in the city. “What plan do you have to make sure that they’re successful when they come back? Just having a thought partner to think things through, so that you’re not alone, is so important.”
 
“Clearly, our Education Freedom Scholarships proposal is the solution American families want,” said Ms. DeVos in a statement. “This common-sense approach puts students and parents in control, without taking a single cent from public schools or teachers.”
 
“MESP is Michigan’s direct-sold Section 529 college savings plan, which offers Michigan taxpayers a Michigan income tax deduction on contributions and potential tax-free growth on any earnings if account proceeds are used to pay for qualified higher education expenses.”
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529 Plans Help Families Pay for College – And Pay for K-12, Too

Here in Michigan, residents can contribute to something called a “529 plan” (named after Section 529 of the IRS code) to help invest and prepay for their kids’ (or relatives’) college education. The plan is what the experts call “a tax-advantaged savings and investment system designed to encourage saving for the future expenses of a designated beneficiary” – your child, grandchild, or loved one.  In other words, when you make a contribution, you get a tax deduction, and account earnings are often tax-free.

Prepaid Tuition plans allow parents to pre-purchase tuition at a college or university at today’s rates, saving big bucks as tuition increases between the purchase date and a student’s eventual enrollment.
 
Savings Plans allow beneficiaries to see their investment grow as the result of market performance and the state’s best-intentioned investments in things like mutual funds.
 
Federal law now allows the plans to be used for K-12 educational expenses, as well.  
 
That’s great news!
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If your family, or anyone you know, would like more information on the federal tax changes to 529 plans and how to take advantage of the new K-12 opportunities, just click here.
If you are currently using a 529 plan for K-12 education expenses we would love to hear your story! Please email your name and a few details to bdeshone@glep.org.


State Dept. of Ed Brags: ‘We’re Breaking the Law!’

New teachers, exciting classrooms, fresh school supplies.  Students across Michigan have already begun heading back to school!  It’s an exciting time of year for students, teachers and parents.

Unfortunately, parents who’ve been counting on action this summer from the Michigan Department of Education and the state Board of Education on issues like public school transparency, funding, and other important issues are left wanting more.
 
The Department of Education might not think report cards are important, but we do.  So before you pack your next lunch or load your next backpack, read on for our own Michigan state education official summer report card.
/campaigns/sitesapi/files/images/648799522/BethDeShoneSignature_sm.pngBeth DeShone
Executive Director, Great Lakes Education Project
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Michigan Radio:State education officials won’t have “A to F” grades for schools ready by Sept. 1st

“The Michigan Department of Education is getting an “incomplete” on its assignment to assign a letter grade to every Michigan school. The state Department of Education will miss a September first deadline to provide “A to F” grades on Michigan schools.”
 
“In Michigan’s public schools, salaries are not based on a teacher’s effectiveness. In virtually every conventional public school district, teachers unions negotiate salaries based on two components — college credits acquired and years of seniority.”
 
“Michigan’s Read by Third Grade law, approved in 2016, requires schools to identify students struggling to read through school-issued tests, then give those students individual reading improvement plans, access to early literacy coaches and a reading intervention program, among other resources.”
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The Summer Report Card: Transparency, Funding, Performance

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The state’s Chief Deputy Superintendent of public education this week told the state Board of Education that the Michigan Department of Education plans to break state law, refusing to meet a binding September 1 legal deadline to release A-F letter grades for Michigan’s schools.
The Department of Education’s intentional and brazen decision to break the law and hide school performance data from taxpayers is an attack on students, an attack on parents, and an attack on the rule of law. When everyday Michiganders break the law, there are consequences, and bureaucrats who break the law to hide records from the public must face consequences as well.
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In an appalling attack on Michigan teachers and their students at the beginning of the summer, the State Board of Education attempted to block a $47-plus million federal grant for Michigan public charter schools designed to provide new text books, classroom equipment and supplies, curriculum materials, and program design for Michigan public schools.
The grant, designed to pump $14 million worth of supplies, books, and programming into Michigan public charter school classrooms for the first school year alone, was part of an Obama-era grant under the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Despite the Board’s attempt to withhold federal funds from at-risk kids, the Department of Education worked around them and delivered the funds to Michigan classrooms.
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This year, the state’s 3rd grade reading law kicks into high gear, requiring districts to identify students who cannot read proficiently by the 3rd grade and provide them with the extra help and supports they need to move to grade level – or risk being held back.  The summer has been spent by some in the education community complaining about the law and the difficulty of helping kids read.  The law has been on the books since 2016.  We’ll learn in the months to come how it is implemented. 
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Contact the state Board of Education today and ask them to hold the Education Department accountable for refusing to comply with state law on critical school transparency measures.


New State Superintendent Takes Job, Up to 3 Off-Days Per Week

At GLEP, we are fighting to give students innovative options in the classroom, our great public school teachers the resources they need, and voters the accountability from state policymakers they deserve.

To that end, we hope you’ll join us raising the alarm as the state Department of Education welcomes a new Superintendent – Michael Rice – with a contract granting him up to 3 paid days off per week between now and the end of the year.
 
We’re holding the Department accountable to deliver A-F grades for Michigan schools to every parent in the state, as well. Students head back to school in just a few weeks.  We’re committed to ensuring Lansing delivers them the best possible education.
/campaigns/sitesapi/files/images/648799522/BethDeShoneSignature_sm.pngBeth DeShone
Executive Director, Great Lakes Education Project
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“The Michigan Department of Education may choose to create confusion because the federal plan requires some different information, but there is no reason that should stop them from providing that information in a more transparent fashion for parents.”
 
“Our students bring home report cards each year so parents can monitor their progress. Families deserve the same level of transparency and accountability from their children’s schools.”
 
“People tend not to think about back-to-school shopping as an event like Christmas or Black Friday, but it is by far bigger than the winter holidays,” Mark Mathews, vice president of research development and industry analysis for the National Retail Federation, told MLive in an interview.”
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State Board Gives Incoming Superintendent 66 Paid Days Off in 2019, Almost 6 Times Number Given Most Public School Teachers

Michael Rice last week became the state’s new Superintendent of public education, and the state Board of Education welcomed him with a gold-plated pay and benefits package big enough that if invested differently, could hire six (6!) new public school teachers.

 
Most outrageous?  The $216,000 annual contract offered by State Board of Education Chair Casandra Ulbrich immediately gives Mr. Rice 36 days of sick leave and 30 days of vacation time.  Under the contract, Rice could work as few as 2 days per week between August 1st – his first day on the job – and the end of the year.
 
According to an analysis by the Thomas Fordham Institute, teachers get on average about 12 combined sick and personal days per year, less than one-fifth the amount given Rice before he spends a single hour on the job.
 
Michael Rice’s gold-plated pay and benefits package is a slap in the face to public school teachers and students across the state, and he should give it back. 
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Michigan parents are expected to spend nearly $700 over the next month as they prepare their students to head back to school.  Parents invest in our schools and they invest in our teachers, because they deserve it.
 
Rice’s contract tells teachers and administrators where the State Board of Education’s priorities really lie – and that from the start they have no real plan to hold the Superintendent accountable. (It’d be hard to hold any employee accountable when you give him 3 paid off-days per week.)
 
The state could hire 6 new teachers, complete with benefits for what the Board of Education is spending to butter up the next Superintendent.  The Board is unprepared and ill-equipped to do the right thing, but Michael Rice still has that opportunity.  Rice can prove to teachers they really matter to him by refusing the Board’s plan to make him rich on the backs of Michigan students.
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Contact the state Board of Education today and ask them to reverse course on the Superintendent’s outrageous, gold-plated benefits package.
You go out of your way to fully invest in your child’s education. The Board should not divert hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay an employee it only expects to work 2 days per week.


Welcome to ChangeEd

Welcome to changeEd, the new regular newsletter of the Great Lakes Education Project. At GLEP, we are laser focused on delivering results for Michigan students. That means innovating at the state Capitol and in school districts across Michigan to boost student performance, innovate in the classroom to meet the unique needs of our kids, in addition to supporting great local public charter schools and the certified public school teachers who innovate every day to support Michigan’s kids.

/campaigns/sitesapi/files/images/648799522/BethDeShoneSignature_sm.pngBeth DeShone
Executive Director, Great Lakes Education Project
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“Regardless of how much more we spend on top of the nearly $15 billion we already do, my advice is to stop funding systems and begin funding children. Directly.”
 
“A closer look suggests that Hecker’s example illustrates why public charter schools are needed in the city with the nation’s worst urban school district.”
 
“Overall, teachers in Michigan are well paid.The state’s average teacher salary, which was adjusted to the cost of living, is the ninth highest in the country.”
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Foot Dragging at Michigan Department of Education Means Parents May Not See Report Cards
 
Last winter, the legislature approved an innovative reform that would empower students, parents and teachers by giving every public school in the state letter grades – A, B, C, D or F – in five key areas. The grades are to be based around student proficiency and growth in reading and math, and are set to go into effect in the upcoming 2019-2020 school year.
 
The first school report card is required by law to head home to parents this September!
 
The Michigan Department of Education is required by law to develop by August 1 the system for assigning and delivering the grades. That’s just weeks away, but the Department is dragging its feet. The law says parents should expect their school’s grades in September, but without urgent action in Lansing, parents may not see them.
 
Parents and reformers across Michigan are demanding the Department comply with state law, and provide parents with the transparency they deserve.  As lawmakers work through the summer, we’re encouraging them to hold the Department accountable, as well.
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Our students bring home report cards each year so parents can monitor their progress.  Parents deserve the same level of transparency and accountability from their children’s schools.  Unfortunately, some schools are failing our students in reading and math, but empowering parents with more information will drive improvement across the state.  Parents deserve transparency.  They deserve A-F school report cards.
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Contact your lawmaker today and ask them to hold the Michigan Department of Education accountable, and to ensure parents receive report cards this September!

 

 

Tell lawmakers: Parents deserve A-F school report cards.  Ensure the Department of Education complies with state law and provides parents with school performance transparency!


This Week & Next (3/3/17)

Trump pushes school choice to Congress
On Tuesday, during his first formal address to Congress, President Trump (R) joined previous Presidents George W. Bush (R) and Barack Obama (D) when he identified education as the “civil rights issue of our time.He asked lawmakers to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.” While details are thin at this point in time, education stakeholders have been writing about various possibilities here, from directly funding a federal voucher program or creating a federal tax credit scholarship program, similar to what has been done in a dozen states. This will likely be the “cornerstone” education program of the Trump presidency, and we’ll have more details as they become available. President Trump and Secretary DeVos are also visiting a private school in Florida today. Continue reading

This Week & Next (02/24/17)

Governor Delays Action on Failing Schools
Yesterday, Governor Rick Synder put out a press release announcing that the State Reform Office, run by Natasha Baker, would be postponing until May any formal announcements about the fate of the 38 schools identified as chronically-failing.  The SRO was in the midst of a 30-45 day review period, where announcements were expected in early March. As a result of public pushback, and lawsuits against the state filed by Kalamazoo Public Schools and Saginaw Public Schools, the Governor would like the State Reform Office to work more closely with Superintendent Whiston and the MDE on researching and communicating various intervention options to local school districts. The Governor reiterated his understanding that absent closure, major restructuring and interventions will be needed in at least these particular schools.   Reaction to the Governor’s announcement was mixed, and GLEP continues to advocate that chronically failing schools must be replaced or closed. MLive has published an interactive map showing other school options nearby the 38 chronically-failing schools in the state. Continue reading

This Week & Next (2/17/17)

Legislative subcommittees start FY ’18 school aid budget work
Both the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on School Aid held initial hearings this week to discuss the Governor’s proposed $14.3 billion School Aid Budget for FY ’18.  As mentioned last week, some of the key issues in the proposed budget are:

  • Increasing the minimum foundation grant by $100 to $7,611 per pupil and increasing the basic foundation grant by $50 to $8,279 per pupil, reducing the funding equity gap to $668 per pupil through the 2x formula;

Continue reading