Post-Labor Day school start

Public schools in Michigan will start after Labor Day beginning in 2006, now that Gov. Jennifer Granholm has signed House Bill 4803 into law. The law stipulates that all public schools, including charter schools, must wait until after the Labor Day holiday to start school, beginning with the 2006-07 school year. Exempt from the bill are private schools, universities and year-round schools. School districts with teacher contracts already in place beyond the current school year can continue starting school before Labor Day until those contracts expire. HB 4803 was introduced by Rep. Ed Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms, and co-sponsored by more than 40 state representatives. Since the 2001-2002 school year, the Friday of Labor Day weekend has been a school holiday. The post Labor Day start is expected to boost Michigan’s tourism industry. Michigan State University’s Travel, Tourism and Recreation Resource Center predicts an additional $132 million in economic activity statewide, plus an extra $10 million in tax revenue and fees going to the state budget. Two-thirds of the state’s six-cent sales tax goes to the School Aid Fund. The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency disagrees, however, saying that people who shift vacations or tourism spending to late August from another time during the summer would not spend additional money by taking two vacations. The Michigan Education Association opposed the change, saying it takes power away from local school boards, makes tourism more important than schools and could harm education by forcing longer school days.

Two years ago, the state Legislature changed school requirements from 180 days of instruction to 1,098 hours. Schools can now determine the number of days students spend in class and the number of hours each school day lasts. A poll taken by EPIC/MRA in August shows 63 percent of Michiganders favor a post-Labor Day school start. Another 22 percent were opposed and 15 percent were undecided. The poll of 600 likely voters had a 4 percent margin of error.

Instructional spending mandate

House Bill 4965, introduced by Rep. Jacob Hoogendyk, R-Kalamazoo, would require Michigan school districts to ensure at least 65 percent of their general operating budget be spent on instruction. The bill, assigned to the House Education Committee, uses language from the National Center for Education Statistics that defines instruction as "an activity dealing directly with interaction between pupils and teachers or other classroom and instruction personnel, tutors, books, computers, general instruction supplies, instruction aides and learning support staff such as librarians, and also includes school activities such as field trips, athletics, arts and multi-disciplinary learning." School districts not in compliance with the 65 percent threshold would be required to increase the amount of operating budget spent on instruction by 2 percentage points each school fiscal year until they reach 65 percent. School boards that do not think they can comply may request a waiver from the governor by submitting an action plan to the Superintendent of Public Education before June 1 of the school year in question. The plan must outline steps the district will take to achieve the 65 percent status.

Bilingual education guidelines

House Bill 5222, introduced by Rep. Steve Tobocman, D-Detroit, and Rep. Paul Condino, D-Southfield, establishes new guidelines for public school districts to implement bilingual instruction programs. HB 5222 would amend P.A. 451 of 1976, also known as "the revised school code," by allowing districts with 20 or more students of "limited English-speaking ability" to establish their own bilingual programs. While current law allows students in districts without such a program to enroll in a bilingual program in another district, HB 5222 would require the school district in which the student resides to pay any tuition and transportation costs associated with enrollment. If a district has fewer than 20 children of limited English-speaking ability, the new law provides for the intermediate school district to establish a bilingual instruction-support program. The bill also requires students enrolled in bilingual programs to participate for three years or until they achieve a level of proficiency in English that would allow them to participate equally in a regular school program. If passed, the bill would require school districts operating a bilingual program to establish an advisory committee including teachers, counselors and community members, with a majority of the committee made up of parents of students in the program. The bill has been referred to the House Education Committee.

School administrator certificate

Two bills recently introduced in the Michigan Senate would establish a voluntary school administrator’s certificate and fees for applicants. Senate Bill 673, introduced by Sen. Ron Jelinek, R- Three Oaks, would require the State Board of Education to develop a school administrator’s certificate for school district and intermediate school district superintendents, principals, assistant principals and other administrators. The certificates would carry endorsements based on elementary or secondary level employment, but would not be a requirement for employment. SB 674, introduced by Sen. Michael Switalski, D-Roseville, establishes fees for those who apply for a certificate. The cost would be $125 for in-state applicants and $175 for those out-of-state. The two bills are tie-barred, meaning they both must be signed into law for the other to take effect. The bills passed the Senate 37-0 and have been referred to the House Education Committee.

Detroit single-sex schools

Senate Bill 699, introduced by Sen. Samuel Thomas, D-Detroit, would revise P.A. 451 of 1976, "the revised school code," by adding a new section stating that "the board of a first class school district may establish and maintain one or more schools in which enrollment is limited to pupils of the same sex." A first class school district is one with more than 100,000 students enrolled. Detroit Public Schools is the only first class district in Michigan. Introduction of the bill came two weeks after DPS announced it would make the Douglass Preparatory Academy for Young Men and the International Academy for Young Women co-ed schools. Opponents of same-sex schools claim they are discriminatory. "I regret the fact that the leaders of the ACLU don’t believe in parental choice and feel they know what’s best for Detroit’s parents," Detroit schools CEO William F. Coleman III said in a press release. SB 699 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

Student safety from sex offenders

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed an 18-bill package last month, stemming from the "Student Safety Initiative," introduced by Republican lawmakers in June. Chief among them was Senate Bill 617, sponsored by Sen. Laura Toy, R-Livonia. Now Public Act 121, it stipulates that a person required to register under the Sex Offender Registration Act cannot reside, work or loiter in a "student safety zone," an area 1,000 feet or less from school property. School property is defined as a building, facility or structure owned, leased or otherwise controlled by a school. Schools covered in the act include any public, private, denominational or parochial school offering any grade level from K-12. First offense of the law is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a maximum $1,000 fine. Second or subsequent violations are felonies punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a maximum fine of $2,000. Exceptions to the law include registered sex offenders living or working in a student safety zone before passage of the law, or those whose residence or place of employment is in a school safety zone solely because a school has relocated or initially is established less than 1,000 feet away from the person’s residence or place of employment.

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