School attendance
A new bill in the Michigan Senate would significantly alter public school attendance expectations statewide. Senate Bill 4, introduced on Jan. 12 by Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, would amend P.A. 451 of 1976 with regard to the age at which parents and legal guardians are required to send their children to school. The bill seeks to increase the maximum age from 16 to 18, meaning that parents would be obligated by law to ensure that their children attend "continuously and consecutively" from age 6 until their 18th birthday.

Accelerated education
House Bill 5791, known as the Michigan Accelerated College Education Act, was introduced last April by Rep. Jacob Hoogendyk Jr., R-Portage. The bill, likely to be reintroduced this year, stands in contrast to Senate Bill 4, referenced above. House Bill 5791 allows high school students who have not yet graduated to enroll in post-secondary programs before receiving a high school diploma, with the state paying a portion of the cost. Under the plan, qualifying students would receive a grant worth up to 50 percent of "eligible charges" to participate in a post-secondary degree program provided they maintain a 2.0 or higher grade point average. After a total of 8 semesters of high school and post-secondary instruction has been completed, the post-secondary institution could award a high school diploma and the appropriate post-secondary degree or certification.

School employee health insurance
Certain health insurance plans covering school employees would be superseded by a state insurance plan under 2005 Senate Bill 55. The bill, introduced by Sen. Shirley Johnson, R-Royal Oak, on Jan. 25, and supported by Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, would create a state school employee health care board. According to the legislation, the new board would consist of two members nominated by the governor, two members nominated by the Senate majority leader, and two members nominated by the speaker of the House of Representatives. This panel would take on the responsibility of designing an optimal and stable health insurance plan to be offered to school and community college employees, similar to the plans covering other state workers. School districts or community colleges choosing to provide health insurance to their employees would be allowed to provide only the insurance plans determined by the new state board. Transition to the new plans would be made upon expiration of the currently provided health insurance. It is reported that the state spends significantly less per employee for health coverage than most Michigan school districts.

Appointment of superintendent
2004 Senate Joint Resolution H, introduced in February 2004 by Senate Republicans is once again gaining attention in light of the recent dispute between former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins and Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The resolution proposes that the state constitution be amended "to provide for gubernatorial appointment of the superintendent of public instruction." Currently, the power to appoint the superintendent resides with the state Board of Education, itself an elected body. The superintendent is the principal executive of the Board of Education, and presides as the chairperson without the right to vote. The governor is an ex-officio member of the board, also without a vote. The recent power struggle between the state superintendent and the governor sparked renewed interest in the bill. This year’s version of the bill, 2005 House Joint Resolution C, was introduced on Feb. 1 by Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland.

Charter school cap
A new House Bill has been introduced to modify some of the conditions under which charter schools exist in Michigan. House Bill 4078 abolishes the cap of 150 university-authorized schools that currently limits the expansion of charters. The bill does not specify a new upper limit, but eliminates the old restriction. Also, the legislation would allow community colleges to authorize public school academies in Detroit, permit limited charter school enrollment preferences, require that assets of closed schools revert back to the state school aid fund and establish various other rules for charters and education management companies. The bill was introduced by Republicans Brian Palmer (Romeo) and Kevin Elsenheimer (Bellaire) on Jan. 27.

Michigan merit scholarship
A bill affecting Michigan merit scholarship money was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 22, 2005. Senate Bill 232, sponsored by Sen. Deborah Cherry, D-Burton, Sen. Gilda Z. Jacobs, D-Huntington Woods, and Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, establishes that merit scholarship money be returned to the state in the case that a student recipient leaves school. The bill states: "If a student elects to leave an approved postsecondary educational institution without completing the classes in which he or she enrolled, the approved postsecondary educational institution shall return any money remaining in the student’s account … to the Department of Treasury. The Department shall deposit the money returned from the student’s account into an account in the state treasury for the student. Any money remaining in an account for 5 years shall escheat to the state."

Prevailing wage
House Bill 4412, introduced by Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire, will amend PA 451 of 1976, "the revised school code," if passed. Specifically, HB 4412 targets section 503 of the Public Act by striking from it PA 166 of 1965, the Prevailing Wage Act. This 40-year-old law stipulates, "Every contract executed between a contracting agent and a successful bidder as contractor … shall contain an express term that the rates of wages and fringe benefits to be paid … by the bidder and all of his subcontractors, shall be not less than the wage and fringe benefit rates prevailing in the locality in which the work is performed." These wage rates have traditionally been determined by a commissioner of labor, based on wages and benefits that prevail "on projects of a similar character in the locality under collective agreements or understandings between bona fide organizations of construction mechanics and their employers." This prevailing wage requirement currently applies to public school construction projects.