Contents of this issue:
  • MEA member fights against dues used for politics

  • EDITORIAL: MEA needs reform, not increased dues

  • Future of district's laptop plan rests on school board politics

  • MEAP scores increase in 7 of 10 subjects, decrease race gap

  • Teachers go back to school to meet federal standards

  • Many high school freshmen fail and repeat 9th grade

  • Order may close Kansas' public school system

SARANAC, Mich. — A part-time secretary for the Saranac Community School District is fighting to keep her union dues from being spent on political causes trumpeted by the Michigan and National Education Associations. Federal anti-discrimination laws guarantee union members that right, but the MEA has not accepted Shawn Austin's argument that she objects on a religious basis their financial support of causes with which she disagrees. For two years, Austin has requested that her dues be given to a charity rather than be spent on support for groups that support political and social causes that violate her personal beliefs.

In order to legally qualify for status as a religious objector, Austin must face a review board to analyze her beliefs. "The Michigan Education Association is among the worst," said Bruce N. Cameron, a lawyer for the Springfield-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation who is advising Mrs. Austin. "They require the religious objector to go through an inquisition before they will accommodate you. They are the only [NEA affiliate] who does that." Though Saranac school officials have supported Austin's right to claim religious objection, the local union still is hindering her ability to do so.

Washington Times, "Teachers battle NEA over politics," Apr. 27, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teachers: You Don't Have to Pay for Union Political Spending," January 2000

PONTIAC, Mich. — An Oakland Press editorial yesterday called for reform within the Michigan Education Association (MEA) in response to that organization's planned fee increase for each member of $10 per year for 20 years, a $1 million per year windfall for the union. According to the Press, the increase would be spent on the union's political interests. "By and large, that means the status quo, which is under external pressure from such relative newcomers in local education as charter schools that compete with school districts for taxpayer dollars," wrote the Press.

Proposal "A," the massive school funding reform approved in 1994 by voters statewide, was one of several reforms that now prevent the union from using strikes to force tax increases. "We learned higher taxes were for higher pay, not better schools, and [with Proposal 'A,'] agreed to cap tax rates and effectively ban the MEA-led strikes," said the Press. The union needs to focus on lowering its compulsory dues and reduce the cost of benefits such as health care in order to make schools more affordable to taxpayers, said the Press. "The union's quest for more dollars for its defense is not a good sign." Union members have until June 1 to opt out of the dues increase.

Oakland Press, "MEA should change its ways, not raise its dues," May 17, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "100,000 Public School Employees Near Deadline to Save $200 Each," May 2004

Michigan Education Association memo, April 30, 2004

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The superintendent of the Grand Rapids School District cancelled a planned program to lease laptop computers for seventh-grade students at a middle school after a school board candidate focused his re-election campaign on rejecting the plan.

The laptop plan would have been funded by a ballot-approved tax increase. Superintendent Bert Bleke said that the tax increase plan should not be at risk of voter disapproval because of its necessity for other district projects. "I told the board members I'm doing it because this has ceased to be an educational issue and instead has become a political issue," Bleke told the Grand Rapids Press.

Steinport said he is fighting against the plan because it would be a poor fiscal decision and a waste of taxpayer dollars. "It's been an educational issue for me all along," Steinport said. "But that has nothing to do with my campaign. It's due to poor timing and the dubious educational benefits of the laptops." Sixth-graders at the middle school already have laptops as a part of the program.

Grand Rapids voters will decide next month on two ballot measures that would raise a total of $165 million for the district.

Grand Rapids Press, "Politics scuttles part of plan for school laptops," May 17, 2004 108480534179100.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Giving Laptops to Sixth Graders Won't Improve Their Education," July 2003

LANSING, Mich. — After scores for this year's Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests were released this month, state officials announced that test scores increased in seven out of 10 test areas and the achievement gap between white and African-American students narrowed in math, reading and writing.

Math and reading experienced the greatest improvements. In math, eighth-graders that met or exceeded standards jumped from 52 percent in 2003 to 65 percent this year. Fourth-graders meeting math standards increased from 65 percent last year to 73 percent.

Declines were experienced in seventh-grade writing, where only 47 percent met or exceeded standards this year, down from 56 percent last year. Eighth-graders scoring proficiently in social studies declined to just 29 percent this year, down from 33 percent last year.

African-American students in the fourth grade achieved a 10 percent increase in math this year, to 53 percent proficient, while white fourth-grade students gained six percent, to 79 percent proficient.

Booth Newspapers, "Statewide MEAP scores up in most subjects," May 11, 2004 1084284602317200.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "What Can't Brown Do for You?" May 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How Does the MEAP Measure Up?" December 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "POLICY BRIEF: Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" May 2002

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many of Michigan's 100,000 teachers will be attending classes during summer vacation to take courses required by federal law to be "highly qualified" educators.

The standards for highly qualified teachers are a part of the "No Child Left Behind" Act, signed into law by President Bush in 2002. In addition to achievement standards for all public school students, the law requires that all teachers meet the "highly qualified" definition by the end of the 2005-6 school year.

Some complain that the law is too stringent and penalizes experienced teachers who have been teaching for a long time, and would require taking postgraduate classes that cost extra money.

"If you want to provide additional training for your teachers, that's a financial matter mostly," said Tony Derezinski, director of government affairs for the Michigan Association of School Boards. "Where's the money going to come from?"

Booth Newspapers, "Law has more teachers going back to school this summer," May 16, 2004 108444302164360.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Take Another Look at Teacher Certification" April 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Must Teachers Be Certified to Be Qualified?" February 1999

Michigan Education Report, "Michigan lagging in teacher quality says federal agency,"
Early Fall 2002

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many students across the country are chronically failing the ninth grade, forcing them to repeat their freshman year two or even three times.

Statistics show that 22 percent of ninth-graders in Prince George's County, Md. failed that grade last school year.

According to the Washington Post, those statistics were consistent with several other states as well. Andri Hornsby, Prince George's superintendent, says those failing the ninth grade were passed from one grade to the next since elementary school, whether or not they were sufficiently educated, a practice known as social promotion. Walter Haney, a professor at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, said that his research shows a tripling in the rate of U.S. students failing to pass the ninth grade.

Detroit News, "Many high school freshmen have to repeat 9th grade," May 15, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," August 2000

TOPEKA, Kan. — A Kansas district judge ordered that state's entire public school system to close while the legislature prepares a fix to funding flaws that he called unconstitutional.

The order comes after a decision last December in a case filed against the state of Kansas, which alleged that the funding inequalities between districts were unfair and violated the state's constitution. In his order to shut down schools, Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock wrote, "This action by the court will terminate all spending functions under the unconstitutional funding provisions, effectively putting our school system on 'pause' until the unconstitutional funding defects are remedied by the legislative and executive branches of our government."

State education officials have appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court to block the order in the hopes that a fix can be supplied while schools remain active. Also, some state legislators hope to resolve the issue before the order takes effect on June 30. "We may want to look at that with some new eyes, and say, 'OK, here's a chance to make a difference and show a good-faith effort,'" said Kansas Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen.

KMBC-TV, "Judge Orders Kansas' Public Schools Closed," May 11, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" August 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "'Proposal A,' 10 Years Later,"
February 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Finance Reform Lessons from Michigan,"
October 12, 2001

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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