Character education bill on hold

In an effort to address behavior problems, Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill that would require character education in all schools.

Rep. Valde Garcia, R-St. Johns, sponsored the legislation that would require school districts to include a character development program in their curriculum for grades K-12 starting in the 2001-02 school year.

The bill calls for the program to stress qualities such as attentiveness, patience, and initiative. The State Board of Education would be required to develop a secular model program school districts could adopt. The program would be similar to the national character education programs, Character Counts! and Character First!, which were profiled in the fall 2000 issue of Michigan Education Report.

The House Education Committee discussed the bill in December but took no action.

Education savings program launched

The Michigan Education Savings Program, a plan offering parents and others the chance to invest tax-free in any child's higher education, was officially launched in late November 2000.

"A good education is the cornerstone of opportunity and these accounts will give more families the ability to achieve their educational goals," state Sen. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, said at the Nov. 21 press conference unveiling the college savings program. Rogers sponsored the legislation establishing the accounts. The bill was passed by the Legislature in May and signed by Gov. Engler in June.

Under the plan, a parent, grandparent, or others can open an account for a student by investing as little as $25. An individual can place as much as $5,000 annually into an account and not pay the state's 4.2-percent income tax. Joint filers could invest up to $10,000 without paying state taxes on the principal or subsequent interest earned. Those who set up an account by Dec. 31, 2000, could take advantage of the tax break on their taxes.

Legislature fails to increase charter cap

Despite Gov. Engler's support for the idea, the Legislature failed to increase the statutory cap on university-authorized charter schools in 2000. The proposed bill would have allowed a gradual increase of the cap on university-sponsored charters by 25 per year, up to 225 in 2002. The current cap, set at 150, has been reached, and many students remain on waiting lists to attend charter schools across the state.

Under current law, universities, intermediate and local school districts, and community colleges are the only entities that can create charters. Universities authorize the most charters, while intermediate and local school districts only charter a small percentage of schools.

Many legislators say they may support a bill if it includes provisions for more government regulation of charters.

House advances speech instructor bill

The Michigan House adopted a measure in December 2000 to permit school districts to employ speech and language pathologists who are not certified as teachers. All pathologists must still meet the requirements for speech language certification by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Supporters of the measure argue school districts are experiencing teacher shortages, including a shortage of speech and language therapists and pathologists. According to the State Department of Education, 35 intermediate school districts have requested waivers to the administrative rules that require these personnel to hold a teaching certificate.

Opponents of the measure argue that a shortage of pathologists does not justify "lowering the standards" in the teaching profession.

Proponents of the bill counter that teaching certification has little impact on the tasks of speech therapists and pathologists. They also argue that teacher certification does not guarantee competency.

The bill would not allow speech and language pathologists to serve as classroom teachers.