Bill would clear way for more Detroit charters

Legislation introduced by Rep. LaMar Lemmons Jr., D-Detroit, in January would allow Wayne County Community College to authorize charter schools in Detroit. Current law prevents community colleges from authorizing charter schools "in a school district of the first class," a reference to Detroit Public Schools. However, other community colleges are authorized to sponsor charter schools in the districts they serve. House Bill 4043 was referred to the House Education Committee on January 22.

State would pick up Detroit tab

The State of Michigan would assume the deficit incurred by Detroit Public Schools when that district was under the control of a state-imposed reform school board, if the Legislature approves a bill introduced by Rep. LaMar Lemmons Jr., D-Detroit, in January. House Bill 4040 says that the "legislature shall appropriate sufficient funds to the school district to eliminate the operating deficit." In 2004, the district had a $122 million deficit. House Bill 4040 was referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

More time in school

Legislation introduced by Rep. Bruce Caswell, R-Hillsdale, on January 22 would increase the minimum number of hours of instruction public schools must provide from 1,098 hours per year to 1,140. As previously, failure to operate schools for at least the minimum time requirements could result in loss of state aid. House Bill 4008 was referred to the House Education Committee. In addition, legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to require compulsory school attendance for children up to age 18, instead of age 16 as is currently required. Sen. Liz Brater, D- Ann Arbor, and Rep. LaMar Lemmons Jr. introduced the bills in their respective chambers. Senate Bill 11 and House Bill 4042 have been assigned to the Senate and House education committees, respectively.

Medical savings accounts

Public schools would be required to offer medical savings accounts as a health insurance option for employees under a bill introduced by Rep. Bruce Caswell, R-Hillsdale. The same bill would require all districts, as of Sept. 1, 2007, to offer health insurance with benefits that are comparable to the most comprehensive benefits offered before that date. In districts where a collective bargaining agreement was in effect before Sept. 1, that agreement would take precedence until it expired. Medical savings account plans typically combine a high-deductible health insurance plan (the bill specifies $3,000) with a tax-deferred equity account owned by the employee. Routine health care expenses that cost less than the insurance deductible amount are paid for from the equity account. House Bill 4012 was referred to the House Education Committee on January 22.

School aid budget by July 1

The Michigan Legislature would be required to adopt a school aid budget by July 1 each year for the fiscal year beginning the following Oct. 1 under legislation introduced by Rep. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell. The bill would create a new section in the state school aid act. House Bill 4021 was referred to the House Appropriations Committee on Jan. 22.

No more sweets in school

Rep. Frank Accavitti Jr., D-Eastpointe, has introduced legislation that would ban the sale of these items in public schools: chewing gum, candy bars, food or drinks that consist of 35 percent or more sugar or other sweetener, juice that is less than 100 percent real fruit or vegetable juice, food or drinks containing more than eight grams of fat per serving, and, in elementary schools, the sale of soft drinks. House Bill 4035 was referred to the House Health Policy Committee on January 22.

Allow administrator unions

School district superintendents, principals and chief business administrators could establish or join a union under legislation introduced by Rep. LaMar Lemmons Jr., D-Detroit, on January 22. House Bill 4039 would repeal the existing state law that prohibits such action. The bill was referred to the House Labor Committee.

Insurance coverage must continue

New Michigan law requires that health care coverage for dependent children who are full-time or part-time students must be continued if the student takes a leave of absence from school due to illness or injury. The coverage would continue for 12 months from the last day of attendance in school or until the student reaches the age when the coverage would otherwise end. The law is expected to affect mainly college students. Insurance companies would be prohibited from raising the premium during the period. Under the new law, the student’s physician will have to certify in writing that it is medically necessary for the student to take a leave of absence. The bill, originally introduced in March 2006, passed in the House of Representatives in June and in the Senate on Dec. 12. It was approved by Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Dec. 28.

Removing teacher endorsements

The State Board of Education may not nullify a teacher’s teaching certificate or an attached endorsement, even at the teacher’s request, unless the certificate or endorsement has not been used in 12 years. The new law resulted from legislation introduced in 2006 to establish procedures for when a teacher requests that certain endorsements be nullified. The law would rule out cases in which teachers deliberately nullify certain endorsements in order to use their seniority to bump into other teaching positions. School districts believe that dropping an endorsement is an implicit contract violation. Only the State Board of Education can nullify a teaching certificate or remove endorsements. The bill passed the Michigan Senate in a 35-1 vote and the House in a 107-0 vote and was signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Jan. 3.

Citizenship requirements and scholarships

Gov. Jennifer Granholm vetoed a package of bills in January that would have prohibited illegal aliens or aliens without permanent residence status to receive various scholarships or other financial aid in Michigan. House Bills 5301-5309 would have amended a variety of statutes regarding nursing scholarships, work-study programs, educational opportunity grants and other forms of financial aid. Under the proposed changes, recipients in any of the programs would have had to provide evidence of being a permanent resident of the United States or being in the country for other than a temporary purpose, with the intention of becoming a citizen or permanent resident. Originally introduced in 2005, and sponsored by different legislators, most of the bills made their way through the House Higher Education, Government Operations and Veteran’s Affairs and Homeland Security committees before final approval in the House in April 2006 and in the Senate in December 2006. A similar bill, HB 5310, would prohibit state merit award college scholarships for illegal aliens or aliens not granted permanent residence status. That bill was also approved by the House in April but was still under consideration in the Senate as of December.

Granholm vetoes ISD changes

A bill that would have affected elections, financial reporting and sales of property in intermediate school districts was vetoed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in January. Most ISD boards are selected by the boards of their constituent school districts and some local board members serve on both the local board and the ISD board. Under the proposal, if a school board member were the third person from the same board to be elected to the ISD board, he or she would have to resign one of the positions. The bill also would have revised some procedures for timing of elections. In addition, the bill would have required ISDs to state in their annual financial disclosure reports how much was spent individually on public relations, polling and lobbying, rather than lumping those figures together. School code already prohibits ISD board members and administrators from accepting any money, goods or services valued at more than $44 from a person who does business of any kind with the ISD. Under the proposal that would not apply to meals or to other foods or beverages for immediate consumption. The bill was introduced by Rep. Brian Palmer, R-Romeo. After final revisions, the bill passed the House, 58-49, and the Senate, 32-6, in December.

Tweaking millage rates

Certain school districts would be allowed to exempt principal residences and qualified agricultural property from part of the local school operating millage under House Bill 4125. Introduced by Rep. Paul Condino, D-Southfield, on February 1, 2005, the bill affects the Southfield and River Rouge school districts. Under Michigan’s school financing system, owner-occupied principal residences and qualified agricultural property pay a 6-mill state education tax, and owners of other kinds of property (rental, commercial, and industrial) pay an additional 18-mill local property tax. Certain higher spending school districts are permitted to levy supplemental "hold harmless" mills to support per-pupil spending levels, based on their spending level at the time Proposal A passed. The first 18 mills of hold harmless mills are to be levied only on principal residences and qualified agricultural property. If additional hold harmless mills are needed, they are levied against all kinds of property. House Bill 4125 would permit a school board, in cases where more than 18 additional hold harmless mills are required, to exempt each principal residence and all qualified agricultural property from some or all of those mills. The bill passed in the House on a 98-2 vote in November and in the Senate on Dec. 14 in a 37-0 vote and was approved by Granholm in January.

Board members can volunteer

A school board member could volunteer as an unpaid coach or extracurricular activity supervisor in a school district under House Bill 5890. Current law prohibits a member of a governmental body (including a school board) from also being a paid employee. As originally introduced by Rep. John Espinoza, D-Croswell, the legislation would have been limited to districts with a population of less than 15,000. A later version removed that restriction. The volunteer board member could not vote on matters related to athletic issues that came before the school board. The bill passed in the House in a 103-1 vote on Dec. 7, and was referred to the Senate Education Committee on Dec. 12.