James Duderstadt, President Emeritus of the University of Michigan, was named to the Commission on the Future of Higher Education. The 19-member panel, formed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, has the task of writing a comprehensive national strategy on higher education. "I’m not advocating a bigger role for the federal government," Spellings told Education Week, "but it’s time to examine how we can get the most out of our national investment." The task force was to meet for the first time in October and will deliver a final report next August. Dr. Richard Vedder, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University and an education adviser to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, also has been named to the committee. It will be chaired by Charles Miller, former chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents.

Charter schools across the country are receiving less money per pupil than conventional public schools, according to a new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Based on information from the 2002-2003 school year and drawing from financial data in 17 states and 27 cities, the fiscal differential between charter and conventional public schools averages $1,800 per pupil. The gap is as large as $3,500 in Missouri and South Carolina, and more than 40 percent in Atlanta, Greenville and San Diego. The total disparity reaches $1 billion, or about a $450,000 shortfall per school based on an average charter school of 250 students. In Michigan, charter schools, officially known as "public school academies," receive a minimum amount of state aid per student, but because they do not have geographical boundaries, Michigan’s charter schools may not raise additional per-pupil funding through tax levies.

A Michigan school was among those named a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon winner for 2005. Shrine Catholic Grade School, located in Royal Oak, was one of just two nongovernment schools in Michigan nominated for the award. No public schools were nominated. A total of 295 schools were awarded Blue Ribbon status, including seven that were closed due to Hurricane Katrina. Schools can qualify for the NCLB Blue Ribbon program by making significant progress in closing the achievement gap or by having its students perform at high levels. Schools can qualify in one of three ways: at least 40 percent of the students are from disadvantaged backgrounds and they improve performance on state tests; schools whose students place in the top 10 percent on state tests; or private schools that achieve in the top 10 percent nationally.

A voucher program in the nation’s capital has reached capacity in only its second year. Some 1,705 students are attending independent schools in Washington, D.C., with the help of federally-funded vouchers. The Washington Scholarship Fund received 1.7 applications for each available seat. The program provides vouchers worth $7,500 for each eligible student. A total of 1,360 students participated last year.

Charter schools across Louisiana damaged by Hurricane Katrina will get financial help from a No Child Left Behind grant. Nearly $21 million was made available by the U.S. Department of Education to help reopen damaged schools and create 10 new charter schools. The storm and ensuing flooding damaged several public schools, including charters, and displaced more than 300,000 students. The money will be used to pay for staff, supplies, equipment and operations, as well as expand existing schools and build 10 new schools in areas deemed best suited to serve the highest number of students. The new schools are expected to be open by January 2006.

The last Wednesday of September was crucial for tax-supported schools across Michigan. Often called "Count Day" or "Fourth Wednesday," the number of students each conventional public school district has enrolled on this day accounts for 75 percent of the per-pupil state funding the district receives. The other 25 percent comes from a similar count day the previous February. Students who are absent but have an excuse on these days may still be included in a district’s total. Under the new state budget, schools are guaranteed a minimum of $6,875 per student, an increase of $175 per student over the 2004-2005 fiscal year. There are about 1.7 million students enrolled in about 750 school districts and public school academies, according to the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Grosse Pointe Public Schools is receiving almost $480,000 less in state aid than last year, due to the removal of non-resident students from the district’s enrollment. The total registration is down about 100 students from last year. Superintendent Suzanne Klein told The Detroit News that the district’s $93 million general fund budget can absorb the loss. The loss of students followed an effort that saw 3,000 people sign petitions calling for all students to verify their addresses before the start of this school year. Verification can include submission of documents such as real estate transactions, rental agreements or guardianship papers.

Accountability measures have eliminated five schools from participation in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Another 51 schools have been turned away over the last 18 months, according to the Heartland Institute. The Wisconsin Legislature in 2004 passed a state law putting in place more stringent guidelines for schools wanting to participate in the 15-year-old program. The MPCP has increased from 337 students at seven schools in 1990 to 14,427 students at 117 schools today. Under the program, low-income parents can obtain vouchers to be used at non-government schools, creating a broad range of options for children. Aside from following all state guidelines that apply to public schools, the non-government schools must also adhere to strict administrative and financial rules.

A panel charged with improving schools in Maryland has come forward with a recommendation to adopt a merit-based pay structure for teachers. Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. created the 30-member commission in 2004 and asked it to address school readiness, school-community links, teacher and principal accountability and best practices in education. Aside from the pay-for-performance suggestion, the Governor’s Commission on Quality Education also called for a stronger charter school law and to start a ratings system for schools. The Maryland State Teachers Association called the issues minute policy matters and said the underlying problem is that teachers are poorly paid. According to the American Federation of Teachers, Maryland educators rank 12th in the country, with an average salary of just over $50,000 a year.

The New York City teachers’ union negotiated a 14% raise over the next four years, according to a tentative deal reached with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The New York Times reported the city’s 83,000 teachers still have to hold a ratification vote on a contract that would require them to work 50 more minutes a week and add three training days to the school calendar. If approved, the contract would create a new "master teacher" position and increase top-level pay from $81,000 to $93,000 annually. Starting salaries will increase from 39,000 to $42,500. Any new contract would be retroactive to May 31, 2003 when the most recent deal expired.

The Northern Michigan Education Association has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission against Harbor Springs Public Schools, the Petoskey News-Review reported. The complaint accuses the district of not bargaining in good faith. Terry Cox of the Michigan Education Association said the concern stems not from specific actions taken by the school district but rather its overall approach. Harbor Springs Superintendent Dave Larson said the complaint surprised him and that he felt the bargaining sessions had been cordial. Larson added that union proposals garnered the most attention during those sessions. The MERC said it could be several months before a hearing takes place.

Low-income families in the Twin Cities could benefit from greater school choice under a new program being considered by the Minnesota legislature. Access Grants, intended for families at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level, will provide the opportunity for students in the Minneapolis Public School District to attend private schools. The district would benefit financially because it would retain a portion of the per-pupil state aid for every student who gets an Access Grant, but bear none of the responsibility of educating those children. A projected $3.3 million in revenue will be realized the first year for the district. That could grow to more than $14 million in six years.