Contents of this issue:
  • Parents organize Chinese classes after district drops program
  • Van Buren school board member pulls daughter from school
  • Choice brings diversity, revenue to North Muskegon
  • Detroit all-girls school grows
  • Standard & Poor's downgrades Plymouth-Canton financial outlook
  • Comment and win an iPod

HOWELL, Mich. — Parents of a Howell Public Schools student worked to create a Chinese language class outside of the school after the district dropped the program, according to the Lansing State Journal.

Many districts have begun to offer Chinese language programs as awareness grows about the increasing presence of China in the business world. Lansing, Van Buren, Traverse City, Berkley and Lamphere all have schools where students learn in English for half a day and in Chinese for the second half. Parent Lynn Morris wanted her daughter to have the same opportunity, so she collaborated with the owner of a local Chinese restaurant and hired the professor originally employed by Howell schools to teach private classes. The class is held in the restaurant on Sundays at a price of $15 an hour, the Journal reported.

"With the global economy the way it is, it's important for all of us to learn the Chinese language," Morris told the Journal. "The (school) district was doing something great and it got pulled out from under them. Leah looked forward to having the teacher come to class. She and a lot of the other kids were upset and disappointed when the program was discontinued."

Many other districts throughout the state are planning to incorporate Chinese language curricula into their schools. These include 14 districts in Oakland County as well as the Clarenceville school district. Howell is considering offering an after-school Chinese language program, according to the Journal.

Lansing State Journal, "Howell parents set up Chinese classes," Jan. 28, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Undereducated Today, Outsourced Tomorrow," Nov. 16, 2004

BELLEVILLE, Mich. — The vice president of the Van Buren school board removed his daughter from the district's Bellville High School because of safety concerns, according to The Ann Arbor News.

Keith Johnston's daughter, a junior, has transferred to Huron High School near New Boston, while his son, a senior, is finishing out the year at Belleville, The News reported.

"There are teachers getting hurt breaking up fights. That's not a safe environment," Johnston told The News.

Johnston told The News that regardless of his position on the school board, he has to do what's right for his daughter. He plans to work with the board to increase safety measures. The district received negative media attention after five students were expelled for posting pictures on a social networking site that appeared to include guns, drugs and gang signs. Additionally, the district has rescheduled basketball games to avoid gang violence and it also canceled a dance and spirit week due to a string of fights occurring in early January, according to The News.

District Superintendent Pete Lazaroff told The News that media attention has exaggerated the safety issues at the school. He said that his daughter will be a freshman at Bellville in the fall and has no concerns about her attending the school.

The Ann Arbor News, "District official pulls own daughter from school," Jan. 30, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teaching By Example," Oct. 21, 2004

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Residents and nonresidents who attended a community forum agreed the North Muskegon schools are benefiting financially and in terms of student diversity as a result of participating in the cross-district choice program, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

The school district began accepting nonresident students in 1996-1997. Under schools of choice, parents can send their children to any district within the county, provided there is room for them. Only one district, Oakridge Public Schools, has never participated in the program. Since North Muskegon began offering choice, it has enrolled 528 students, totaling an increase in revenue of $12.2 million, The Chronicle reported.

"That's $12.2 million that we would have had to made (sic) in cuts, such as elementary strings or sports," North Muskegon Superintendent John Weaver told The Chronicle. "Without the kids, we don't get the money. Over the years, there's a lot that's been said about choice, but you can see it's been a real blessing for us here."

Some parents and school leaders said that school choice has brought much needed diversity to the district. Less than 3 percent of students are minorities. Resident and district alumna Helen Evans has grandchildren in the district and is a proponent of choice, but thought it was "ludicrous" to even discuss the issue, The Chronicle reported.

"We are in an age of diversity, we're not in a microcosm," Evans told The Chronicle. "There are so many other educational issues we should be spending three meetings on instead of this."

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Forum finds 'choice' good for schools," Feb. 1, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Conclusion: Competition Is Improving Public Schools for Michigan Children," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Foundation Allowance: General Education," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007

Michigan School Money Report, "North Muskegon Revenue and Expenditure Report: 2005, 2006"

DETROIT — The Detroit Public Schools has seen success with the establishment of the Detroit International Academy, the first all-girls public school in the state, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Detroit International Academy opened in 2005 with only 78 students. However, after the state legislature approved a bill in July 2006 allowing same-gender schools, enrollment in the re-vamped all girls academy has grown to 450 students. This leads many to think that DPS will find its niche in offering specialized programs to compete with area charter public schools, the Free Press reported. The district has lost 70,000 students since the 1997-1998 school year. Its enrollment currently stands at about 105,000 and faces more competition from charters if student numbers drop below 100,000, according to the Free Press.

Academy Principal Beverly Hibbler told the Free Press that the largest challenge is altering students' expectations of themselves and instilling self-discipline.

"We're trying to change the culture, change the expectations," Hibbler told the Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, "Girls school: A model for change," Feb. 4, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Dearborn: A Traditional Public School District Accepts the Charter School Challenge," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — Standard & Poor's, the nation's leading securities rating service, lowered the Plymouth-Canton school district's rating to negative from stable, according to The Detroit News.

Plymouth-Canton, which was one of the state's fastest growing and affluent districts, saw its rating decrease because it only has $5 million in savings and an annual budget of about $150 million. The district spent about $3.5 million of its fund balance in 2006-07 to balance the budget and anticipates spending the same amount to balance the budget this year, The News reported.

Tom White, executive director of the Michigan School Business Officials, told The News that the organization recommends districts maintain a fund balance of about 15 percent of their annual budget. As of June 30, there were 47 districts statewide with 3 percent fund equity or less.

"They're in a single file line walking toward the edge of a cliff," White told The News. "This is indicative of what's going on in schools. Each year we shave a little off the budget, and take a little out of the fund equity."

The Detroit News, "District rating lowered," Feb. 2, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Fund Balance," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007

Michigan School Money Report, "Plymouth-Canton Community Schools Revenue and Expenditure Report: 2005, 2006"

MIDLAND, Mich. — Go to and post a comment for a chance to win one of three iPods.

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

Contact Managing Editor Sarah Grether at

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