Contents of this issue:
  • Michigan state school board selects acting superintendent

  • Michigan Senate leader suggests Kent County consider tax hike

  • U.S. Department of Education helps expose "diploma mills" on Web site

  • Michigan legislators introduce bills to raise high school dropout age

  • Westwood Heights district ponders switching K-8 schools to charters

  • Michigan Gov. Granholm to propose change and increase in Merit Award

  • Jury convicts former Oakland ISD superintendent on two charges

DETROIT — The state Board of Education selected Jeremy Hughes, chief academic officer of the Michigan Department of Education, as the acting state superintendent of schools until the board selects a new schools chief.

State Superintendent Tom Watkins resigned late last month following pressure from Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who publicly asked him to step down. According to the Detroit Free Press, Watkins will use untapped vacation and leave time until Mar. 9, when his resignation is expected to take effect.

Hughes has held the post of chief academic officer since 2002, and he will continue in that capacity while filling the role of acting superintendent. "We have the utmost confidence in Jeremy to step in and lead the Department of Education during the transitional period between now and when the board appoints a new superintendent," State Board President Kathleen Straus said in a written statement.

According to the Free Press, Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said that the board should choose a new superintendent that the governor approves of, but that the governor recognizes it is the board's prerogative to hire and fire the state superintendent.

Detroit Free Press, "Hughes selected as Michigan's acting schools chief," Jan. 31, 2005

Michigan Department of Education, "Hughes named Acting Superintendent; Straus commends staff, educators for focus and commitment",1607,7-140-6530_6526_6551-109477--,00.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Lansing Must Embrace Basic Reform Following the Watkins Debacle," January 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Watkins Gets It Right," January 2005

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Michigan Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, suggested last week that schools in Kent County ask county residents to vote to raise property taxes for schools, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

The Press reported that Sikkema sent a letter to the Grand Rapids school district saying that the idea of submitting a 3 mill property tax hike to Kent County voters "has a number of attractive features to a district like Grand Rapids." Sikkema noted, "The taxpayers themselves would be making the final decision, which is an appropriate and necessary measure of public support."

But Grand Rapids Superintendent Bert Bleke told The Press that a tax increase would be ineffective in the long run. "Anyone with any inkling of what's going on knows that there is a structural problem that needs to be corrected," he said. "This (proposal) doesn't correct that problem."

Rockford Superintendent Michael Shibler suggested the proposal was not meaningful, telling The Press, "This gives me the impression that lawmakers don't see a real solution to the financial problems, at least not one they feel they can present and still get re-elected." Sikkema spokesman Ari Adler told The Press that districts are unwilling to hold millage votes, observing, "They don't want to be the bad guys."

The Grand Rapids Press, "Sikkema: Schools can gain funding with countywide property tax hike," Feb. 3, 2005

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Will More Money Improve Student Performance?" June 1998

Michigan Education Report, "School property taxes could increase $5.5 billion over 10 years," Early Fall 2002

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

DETROIT — The Detroit News reported that the U.S. Department of Education last week launched a Web site meant to help employers and students identify unaccredited "diploma mills" that offer advanced degrees for flat fees and little or no coursework.

According to The News, the Web site posts the credentials of 6,900 trade schools and institutions of higher learning in the United States, making it easier to distinguish legitimate schools from those that essentially confer a diploma for a fee. Such diploma mills earn about $200 million per year, and anywhere from 200 to 250 mills exist, according to state of Oregon estimates cited by The News. A recent federal audit found government personnel with fake degrees in teaching positions and nuclear facility safety posts.

"These degrees are fraudulent, and they are worthless," said U.S. Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del, according to The News. "Diploma mills pose dangers to consumers and employers, as well as the general public and to legitimate institutions of higher learning."

The Detroit News, "Feds expose bogus degrees," Feb. 2, 2005

PONTIAC, Mich. — Michigan state Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, introduced a bill last month that would raise the age for compulsory school attendance from 16 to 18, according to The Oakland Press. Under the bill, according to, some students could satisfy the attendance requirement through vocational education or community college cooperative programs.

Currently, students in Michigan may drop out of school at the age of 16. Sen. Brater's legislation, like companion legislation in the Michigan House, would require students to be enrolled in some kind of school setting until their 18th birthday. State Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, a co-sponsor of the House bill, told The Press: "We just know what happens to these kids when they don't stay in school. Often, the picture that's painted is very vivid and also very destructive."

According to The Press, about 65 percent of Michigan high school students graduated in the 1999-2000 school year, ranking Michigan's graduation rate 35th nationwide. In the United States, reported The Press, high school graduates earn an average of $6,415 more each year than students who drop out.

Waterford Schools Superintendent Tom Tattan told The Press that requiring students to attend until their 18th birthday could create problems, too. "The dilemma you might have is that if kids are acting up because they don't want to be in school, you've got to have a way to get them out of there," he said.

The Oakland Press, "State may raise age for school dropouts," Feb. 7, 2005, 2005 Senate Bill 4, 2005 House Bill 4049

FLINT, Mich. — The Westwood Heights school district recently examined the possibility of transforming its K-8 schools into charter schools, though it later abandoned the idea, according to The Flint Journal.

Westwood Heights is a small, 1,200-student district outside of Flint. The Journal reported that district officials asked an attorney whether making their primary and middle schools into charter schools would, among other things, allow them to avoid complying with current union contracts. The attorney reportedly replied that the district could sidestep the contracts if an outside agency ran the charter schools.

Jim Aspin, head negotiator for the local teachers union, told The Journal, "Suddenly, the union is something they want to get rid of." He added: "People have put their entire careers into this district, and it's not because they're making a lot of money. This school district is a family. But now we have a new superintendent, and that's changed and changed drastically."

Westwood Heights School Board Member Rebecca Rembert told The Journal that union contracts were not the school board's primary concern. Rather, she said, the district has failed to meet the goals for annual academic progress set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, meaning that the district now faces restructuring. She observed that converting district schools to charter schools is one of the district's restructuring options under the law, and she told The Journal: "If we don't turn things around, we won't have to worry about union contracts. We'll be taken over by the state."

The Flint Journal, "District ready to call it quits," Feb. 5, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "When Will Conventional Public Schools Be As Accountable As Charters?" July 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 2000

LANSING, Mich. — Booth Newspapers reported that in her State of the State address tonight, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to propose a $1,500 increase in the Michigan Merit Award and a change in the terms for earning it.

Currently, Michigan high school students who satisfactorily pass the Michigan Educational Assessment Program high school tests receive a $2,500 award. Granholm's plan, according to Booth, would raise the total award to $4,000, but would not distribute the money based on state high school exam performance; instead, the money would be given to students who successfully completed two years of college or additional training programs.

According to Booth, Granholm said last week that the state must "shift our expectations and our support beyond 12th grade." Her proposed program would begin in 2007, and state officials told Booth there would be no additional impact on the state budget until 2009. The cost of the grant would be partially offset by deducting federal Pell grants from the state's $4,000 award.

Ari Adler, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, questioned whether the governor's plan, which would delay a student's receipt of the scholarship, would increase college enrollment. "How does this jibe with trying to get more kids to go to college?" he asked, according to Booth.

Booth Newspapers, "Granholm to propose increasing Merit Award to $4,000," Feb. 7, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "College bound students receive new state scholarships," Early Fall 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private Prepaid Tuition Programs Can Help Make College Affordable," September 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Competition Among Professors Would Help Parents Afford College," August 1999

DETROIT — An Oakland County jury last Tuesday convicted former Oakland Intermediate School District Superintendent James Redmond of two crimes and cleared him of an embezzlement charge, reported The Detroit News.

After three days of deliberation, the Oakland County jury convicted Redmond of misconduct in office and conflict of interest, according to The News. Redmond faces a sentence ranging from probation to five years in prison for the crimes.

Redmond's attorneys told The News they would appeal the case. "We're extremely disappointed. He's a professional," defense attorney Mark Kriger told The News. "I don't think they proved their case."

Redmond faced trial for alleged crimes during his nine-year tenure as head of the Oakland ISD, including failing to disclose his role as a chairman of a company that had a contract with the Oakland Schools Board of Education, according to The News. "The jury saw his conduct for what it was," state prosecutor William Rollstin told The News. "The (state) attorney general established the Office of Special Investigations to look at complex cases like this one."

The Detroit News, "Ex-schools chief convicted," Feb. 2, 2005, "Jury Finds Redmond Guilty of Misconduct in Office and Conflict of Interest," Feb. 1, 2005,1607,7-192-29939-109596--,00.html

Michigan Education Report, "Financial scandals exposed in Michigan school districts," Fall 2002

Michigan Education Report, "What Are Intermediate School Districts?" Winter 2000

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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