The high cost of school employee health insurance is being scrutinized by independent policy analysts and the Michigan Senate. A cost-benefit analysis of a proposal to switch school and community college employees to state-administered insurance plans will be evaluated by the Senate in July. Two bills have been introduced to transition school employees to plans akin to those covering state workers. A new Mackinac Center for Public Policy study offers quantitative data illustrating that school employee health insurance costs are becoming a potential budget breaker for school districts. (see "Legislative Action," and "Study")

The United States ranked 10th in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who have completed high school, according to an annual study published by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The study compared the education levels of 30 countries worldwide. Moreover, the United States ranked first in the percentage of adults ages 35 to 44 who have a high school diploma, but the trend among its younger population suggests an impending decline in the number of educated citizens. The study also found that the United States spends $10,871 per student, the highest in the world.

Schools in Allen Park, Livonia and Roseville are replacing traditional letter grades with competency ratings in academic and behavioral skills in order to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Marks for academic achievement are given using a number system in which "1" is the lowest ranking and "4" is the highest. Letters are used to rank a student’s consistency in achieving his number marking, with the letters denoting "consistently," "usually," "sometimes," or "area of weakness." The NCLB Act requires schools to assess students in both academic and nonacademic areas.

Under Michigan Public Act 227, passed last summer, teachers can have their children admitted to schools within the district that employs them, even if they live in a different school district. Teachers have this right even if the district they work for does not participate in Michigan’s public school choice program, or if the district has already filled its school-of-choice admission slots. Some have criticized the law, saying it benefits school employees unfairly and could increase taxpayer costs, but others defend this form of school choice as a justifiable benefit for teachers who have children.

Ann Arbor Public Schools has been ordered by a federal judge to pay legal fees to a student who sued the district for violating her free speech rights. The suit began in July 2002 after Pioneer High School senior Betsy Hansen was denied the opportunity to place an adult representative who believes homosexual activity is sinful on a "Homosexuality and Religion" panel. Hansen also claimed that the school censored portions of a speech she made during the school’s "Diversity Week." The ruling ordered the district to pay damages, legal fees and other expenses to the law firm representing Hansen.

Bloomfield Hills School District plans to rent out its facilities to the private sector, including its conference center, sports facilities, computer lab and nature center. In an effort to maximize the use of its resources and its accountability to taxpayers, the district began renting its athletic facilities in the offseason. The district has already taken in $50,000 through this action, and is now looking for opportunities with its other properties.

Ballot initiatives to increase education spending were defeated in three of four states in the Nov. 2nd election. An Arkansas ballot initiative asked voters to set aside property taxes for schools. Washington’s Initiative 884 asked voters for a 1 percentage point increase in the state sales tax to be set aside for education. Nevada’s Ballot Question 2 asked voters to increase per-pupil spending to the national average. All three were defeated. A ballot initiative was approved in South Dakota, however, giving the state authority to fund busing of students to private schools.

Students that used vouchers to attend private schools graduated at a higher rate than students enrolled in the Milwaukee Public Schools, according to a recent study published by Jay Greene of the nonprofit New York-based Manhattan Institute. About 64 percent of Milwaukee-area students who used vouchers to attend private schools graduated from high school after four years, versus just 36 percent of students in Milwaukee public schools.

Howell Public Schools district voters last September approved an override of the state constitution’s "Headlee Amendment," allowing officials to levy an 18-mill tax on homestead and commercial property to fund education. The Headlee Amendment, named for the recently deceased Richard H. Headlee, limits local property taxes for schools to an inflation-related rate while allowing voters the option to override it in local districts. Early last year, Howell voters had voted against the override, but officials placed it on the ballot again.

Michigan ranked 45th in "teachability," according to a study published by the Manhattan Institute (see above). The Adjusted School Efficiency Index takes social problems like poverty and teen pregnancy into account in calculating each state’s efficiency in handling these problems while educating students. The study also found that students are more "teachable" today than they were 30 years ago, contrary to popular assumptions.

Michigan’s state average on the SAT test declined this year, but remains above the aggregate national average. Average math scores declined three points to 573, and verbal scores declined one point to 563, compared to the national averages of 508 and 518 respectively. Michigan scores had been improving since 1999. Michigan students’ ACT scores were also above the national average, with a mean score of 21.4, up from 21.3 last year.

The University of Michigan and Michigan State University ranked among the best in U.S. News & World Report’s 2005 annual ranking of the nation’s colleges and universities, while Central Michigan University and Wayne State University received lower rankings. Schools were ranked based on selectivity, average SAT scores and several other categories. The University of Michigan was ranked number 22 overall among 248 universities nationwide, and Michigan State University was ranked number 71.

More Michigan schools this year met "Adequate Yearly Progress," the benchmark mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. But nearly 400 Michigan schools are still not meeting the requirement, according to report cards issued by the Michigan Department of Education. Of the failing schools, 101 have been on the list for 5 years; the maximum allowed before a school faces major sanctions under the act. Nearly 40 of the failing schools received a waiver that will allow them to avoid sanctions for one year, although they must improve during that time.

Michigan’s common high school curriculum should be tougher, according to a report by the Michigan Department of Education’s High School Reform Team. The report recommended that the state require exams for core classes to measure student preparedness, that there be stronger connections between technical and liberal arts classes, and that the school calendar be more flexible.

Traverse City Area Public Schools district will receive close to $1 million in U.S. Department of Education grants over three years to fight student obesity. Studies cited in the grant stated that one-third of Traverse City students are either overweight or at serious risk of being overweight. The federal Department of Education will reportedly give $69 million to 237 schools and community organizations nationwide to promote healthy diet and exercise habits as part of the No Child Left Behind Act.