Contents of this issue:


  • Judge: Retiree health care law unconstitutional
  • MEAP: Math up, reading down
  • Charter school, other development at Tiger Stadium nixed
  • D.C. scholarship program reauthorized by House
  • Marquette to study later high school start time
  • Win an iPad from MichiganScience


Judge: Retiree health care law unconstitutional


LANSING, Mich. — A judge ruled Monday that a new law requiring public school employees to pay 3 percent of their wages into their retirement health care is unconstitutional, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge James Giddings ruled that the law is “arbitrary and capricious” because teachers are required to pay into the system, but aren’t guaranteed health benefits when they retire, the Free Press reported.

If the ruling stands, it will force school districts to pay a combined $300 million more for retiree health care than they planned, the Free Press reported.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder said the state will appeal. The law was adopted during former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration as part of a plan to balance the state budget by offering eligible teachers an incentive to retire by mid-2010, but requiring those remaining to pay the 3 percent contribution, the Free Press reported.

SOURCE:
The Detroit Free Press, “Judge rules teacher retirement health care law unconstitutional,” April 5, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Comparing Michigan Private-Sector Pensions to MPSERS’ and MSERS’ Pensions,” Oct. 25, 2010


MEAP: Math up, reading down


DETROIT — Reading scores were down and math scores were up on state test results released last week, but this might be the last good news about the Michigan Educational Assessment Program for the near future, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Next year, students will have to earn significantly higher scores in order to “pass” the test, which likely will drive down state averages, according to the Free Press. Education officials say the higher bar is necessary to determine whether students are ready for college and careers, the Free Press reported.

Statewide, 95 percent of third-graders passed the math exam, 92 percent of fourth-graders, 80 percent of fifth-graders, 85 percent of sixth-graders, 85 percent of seventh-graders and 78 percent of eighth-graders, the Free Press reported. Those scores were higher than a year ago.

In reading, 87 percent of third-graders passed, 84 percent of fourth-graders, 85 percent of fifth-graders, 84 percent of sixth-graders, 79 percent of seventh-graders and 82 percent of eighth-graders. Reading results are down from last year, according to the report.

A Michigan Department of Education analysis showed that the achievement gap in math between white and minority students statewide decreased by 12 to 14 percentage points from 2005 to 2010, the Free Press reported. A number of Detroit metro districts also have seen reduced gaps over those years, according to the report.

SOURCE:
The Detroit Free Press, “Most kids pass the MEAP — but that’s about to get harder,” April 1, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “What MEAP Scores Mean,” March 22, 2010


Charter School, Other Development at Tiger Stadium Nixed


DETROIT — Citing financial concerns, the Detroit Economic Development Corp. rejected a group's $65.3 million plan to redevelop Tiger Stadium as the site of a charter public school, retail shops, nonprofit organizations and housing, according to a report at MLive.com.

“The Corner Development” would have served as headquarters for The Greening of Detroit and WARM Training Center, both nonprofit organizations, as well as a K-8 charter school operated by Cornerstone Charter Schools, the report said. The rehabilitated ball field would have been used for community recreation.

The 9.4-acre property sits in a tax-free renaissance zone and qualified for $3.8 million in earmarked federal redevelopment funds, according to MLive. The economic development group cited “significant concerns about the overall financial feasibility” of the project in a letter to organizers, MLive reported.

“I knew it wasn't a sure thing,” Thom Linn, president of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, told MLive. Linn helped put together the proposal.

The Conservancy already secured $3.8 million in potential federal funding due to a spending bill earmark by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, according to MLive.com. The money does not have to be used at the stadium, but is designated for preservation or redevelopment in the Corktown neighborhood, according to MLive. Levin's office previously said it did not know how long the funds would be available or what would happen if the city failed to approve a project for their use, the report said.

SOURCE:
MLive.com, "The Corner Development: Detroit rejects $65.3M proposal for 'living building,' charter school, retail and housing at old Tiger Stadium site," March 28, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Michigan Education Digest, "Tiger Stadium proposed charter school site," Nov. 9, 2010


School Funding Debate: Dollars vs. Performance


LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder wants the public school funding debate in Michigan to focus on school performance, not just dollars, an Associated Press report said.

Districts anticipate their funding will be reduced by 8 to 10 percent, consisting of a $300 per-pupil reduction proposed by the governor; the end of federal funding that last year provided about $170 per student; and the growing cost of school employee pensions, this year equal to about $245 per student, according to an analysis by the Citizens Research Council, AP reported.

The governor has said that districts should consider closing buildings, reducing employee benefits, privatizing some services, sharing administrators and offering online classes as ways to reduce spending, according to AP. Districts that use these techniques will have access to extra money in 2012-2013 that Gov. Snyder wants to set aside as an incentive, the report said.

Most business leaders say school districts need to adopt the same cost-saving moves many businesses have been forced to make during the recent recession, but Snyder’s critics said K-12 schools already have been frugal and that reduced funding will result in larger class sizes and lower academic performance.

SOURCE:
Traverse City Record-Eagle, “Snyder’s budget may force many changes,” March 6, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Michigan Schools Still Well-Funded Under Governor’s Plan,” April 1, 2011


D.C. Scholarship Program Approved by House


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to reauthorize the SOAR Act, which grants federal scholarships to children enrolled in the lowest-ranking public schools in the nation’s capital so they may attend another school of their choice, according to media reports.

Critics called the reauthorization a “giveaway” to religious and private schools, but advocates have pointed to reading gains and higher graduation rates among recipients, The New York Times reported.

The bill likely faces an uphill battle in the Senate, reports said.

Sponsored by Speaker John A. Boehner, the proposed legislation would provide $8,000 in federal funds annually to eligible elementary students and $12,000 to high school students, according to The New York Times.

Congressional Democrats closed the program, also called the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, to new entrants in 2009, citing lack of sufficient success, according to The Times.

SOURCE:
The New York Times, “House Passes School Voucher Bill,” March 30, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “A Case for Private School Choice in Detroit,” March 22, 2010


Marquette to Study Later High School Start Time


MARQUETTE, Mich. — Marquette Area Public Schools will study the idea of a later start time for high school students, after several school board trustees said they might support such a plan depending on the economic effect on the district, according to The (Marquette) Mining Journal.

School board trustee Mark Smith said at a recent meeting that the district should consider the benefits and disadvantages of an 8:30 a.m. high school start time, rather than the current 7:30 a.m., The Journal reported.

Smith said he has read studies indicating that later high school start times correlate to better grades, reduced tardiness, a more interested student body and fewer morning car accidents, according to The Journal.

His support hinges on whether changes could be made without added costs, Smith said, The Journal reported. According to the National Sleep Foundation, schools or districts in 19 states have shifted high school start times and more than 100 districts are considering it, according to The Journal.

SOURCE:
The (Marquette) Mining Journal, “Later school start mulled by MAPS,” March 31, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Michigan Education Digest, “Back to semesters in Grand Rapids,” April 10, 2010


MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), an online newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at med@educationreport.org

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