Contents of this issue:
  • Florida court strikes down school choice program

  • Growing homeschool population spurs rise in tutoring services

  • Bay City schools may require students to pass MEAP to graduate

  • Flint area outsourcing receives praise, criticism

  • School employees union part of coalition against NCLB

  • State universities overfill dorms with flood of freshmen

  • Announcement: Cato Institute to host education conference

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The 1st District Court of Appeals in Florida last week struck down by a 2-1 margin a state scholarship program which it held to violate a Florida constitutional provision prohibiting financial aid to religious-oriented programs.

The Florida Opportunity Scholarship program provides tuition assistance to students in failing schools to help them pay for enrollment at a different school of their choice, including private and religious schools. Because parents are allowed to use this money towards sectarian schools, the district court majority declared the program unconstitutional.

Though the program is still functioning due to a stay upon appeal, it may ultimately be struck down if the Florida Supreme Court rules against it.

The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C., is representing several families who rely on the scholarships to send their children to school. "School choice is the only reform that will give these kids a good education today, not some empty union promise of an education years down the road," said Chip Mellor, the firm’s president and general counsel.

Institute for Justice, "Florida Court of Appeals Strikes Down School Choice Program in 2-1 Decision," Aug. 9, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Education Reform, School Choice, and Tax Credits," Spring 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Friedman Says Vouchers and Tax Credits Useful Route to Greater School Choice," March 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling: Restoring Parental Control of Education," January 2001

LANSING, Mich. – A noted increase in the number of homeschooled students across the state and the nation has driven demand for tutoring and other education-related services.

Tutoring firms report they have enrolled more homeschool students than ever, suggesting a substantial increase in the practice where parents choose to educate their children at home for moral, philosophical and practical reasons. Recent data show that more than 120,000 children are homeschooled in Michigan, though no official figures exist, because the state does not require homeschooling families to report to the government.

Grand Ledge-based Teenworks, a tutoring company, said its enrollment may increase to 400 students this fall, up 100 from last year. Teenworks caters to home schoolers with courses in 60 subjects, such as science and drama, where resources at home may not be sufficient. "When we first started, we couldn't purchase curriculum and textbooks, because we weren’t a school," said Teenworks owner Wanda Burdick. "Now publishers will sell to home schoolers, and they are hitting the market fast, because it’s an ever-growing market."

Another tutoring company, the Emmanuel Center in Holt, reports a 25 percent increase in the number of customers in the last three years. The Center offers training classes for parents of disabled children. "Some parents of children with learning disabilities probably feel they can do it better at home," owner Shirley McGee told the Lansing State Journal. "The children need more individualized instruction."

Lansing State Journal, "Classes, services expand as home schooling grows," Aug. 13, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Home Schoolers Make Case for School Choice," May 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Home schooling works, study finds," Aug. 15, 1999

BAY CITY, Mich. – A proposal by the Bay City school board may require high school students to take and pass portions of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests in order to earn a diploma.

If enacted, starting next fall high schoolers would be compelled not only to take the MEAP test to graduate, but to pass the English/Language Arts section with a grade of at least "3" — the lowest acceptable standard for passing. "When our students graduate from our high schools, they will be proficient in those areas. ... I don’t see it as punitive," said School Board Treasurer Pauline M. Helmling.

Some district officials expressed concern that the plan may keep borderline students from graduating. "You have students that might struggle, and now we’ve placed a second handicap on them," said School Board Vice President Kenneth M. Malkin. Those in favor of the plan say they would allow students who perform poorly on the English/Language Arts section to take a class on the subject to meet the requirement.

Bay City Times, "Bay City Public Schools propose mandatory MEAP," Aug. 10, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "POLICY BRIEF: Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" May 2002

FLINT, Mich. – Some districts in the Flint area report they will be outsourcing more services than ever to save money, while others plan to retain in-house staff as a way to attract families who disapprove of outsourcing.

Many districts around the state have been reeling from budget cuts since the late 1990s and are looking for ways to save money. Outsourcing is an increasingly common way for districts to save money while maintaining the same level of services.

"We are looking at the big picture and trying to look at the future," said Jeffry Morgan, superintendent of Kearsley Public Schools. His district will outsource its custodial services this fall, saving an estimated $500,000. "We had to solve a financial problem like all districts did this spring."

The Flint News reported that the 21 school districts in Genessee County will save $35.8 million this year and more than $85 million during the next three years, in part due to outsourcing measures.

Critics of outsourcing say that the practice may eliminate jobs or move positions out of the community. But school officials said that when applied correctly, outsourcing is a viable solution for budget problems. Goodrich Board of Education President Michael J. Thorp, whose district privatized its custodial staff seven years ago, pointed out that the district saved enough money to avoid layoffs. "It saved us a significant amount of money. It was enough that we took the heat for it," he said.

Flint Journal, "Outsourcing gets mixed reviews at area schools," Aug. 15, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible Public School Districts," December 2002

Michigan Privatization Report, "Survey Says: Privatization Works in Michigan Schools,"
September 2001

Michigan Privatization Report, "Substituting the Private for the Public," February 2000

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A nationwide coalition that includes the nation’s largest school employees union began its campaign against the No Child Left Behind Act and in favor of increased federal spending for education.

The coalition, named the National Mobilization for Great Public Schools, was spearheaded by the National Education Association and, among other groups. Though the political action committees related to both groups have endorsed Sen. John Kerry for president, the coalition states that it is a nonpartisan effort focused on bringing education into the presidential debate. "What we’re trying to do is make sure that widespread feeling gets mobilized and addressed in the larger policy debate," said Campaign co-director Robert Borosage. Coalition leaders added that they will not endorse any candidate or party.

Republican leaders disputed the group’s claim of neutrality, saying that the coalition is politically charged. "A coalition that involves the N.E.A. and is by definition not nonpartisan," said Bush campaign spokesman Stephen Schmidt.

New York Times, "Election Issue of Education Is Promoted," Aug. 12, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "President signs ‘No Child Left Behind Act’," Winter 2002

DETROIT, Mich. – Freshman classes at several state universities have reached near-record numbers, making dorm space for many scarce and crowded.

Michigan State and Central Michigan universities will place more students in dorm rooms than originally expected, adding a third or fourth roommate in crowded areas. At the University of Michigan, officials plan to place upperclassmen in family housing, which some residents say will cause conflicts between the undergraduates and those with spouses and children. "Most of us teach," said Lisa Jackson, a mother of two who recently finished her doctorate at the university. "Undergrads like to drink and party and play music. People who live in family housing have the common thread of children or being married."

The universities plan to offer rebates or credits toward housing expenses for those students in crowded dorms. Central will offer students in overbooked rooms a 25 percent discount, while MSU students will receive a $400 discount. U-M students placed in family housing will be offered a $500 credit for housing and a $500 credit for meal plans.

Detroit News, "Freshmen swamp U-M, MSU dorms," Aug. 12, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Declining Standards at Michigan Universities," November 1996

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute announced it will host a conference and luncheon next month that will focus on school choice and a free market in education.

The half-day conference, entitled "Creating a True Marketplace in Education," will take place on September 28 and feature several noted speakers on education policy, including Andrew Coulson, senior fellow for education policy with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Two panel sessions will discuss the details of a marketplace in education and whether we are closer to a market today.

To register for the free event, visit or call (202) 789-5229 by 8:00 am, Monday, September 27.

Cato Institute, "Creating a True Marketplace in Education"

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Forging Consensus," April 2004

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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