A district or school closing is 'for the greater good'
Education Policy Director Michael Van Beek told The Jackson Citizen Patriot that it’s “for the greater good” when a school districts shuts down or a district closes a building.
“Our ultimate goal should not be keeping what we have now,” Van Beek said. “Our ultimate goal should be having parents sending their children to districts where they feel they’re getting them the best education.”
Michigan Education Digest recently reported that Albion is considering closing its high school in order to fix a $1.1 million overspending crisis. The district has also seen enrollment drop.
“It’s a clear signal the district needs to change,” Van Beek said, pointing out that other nearby districts are meeting the needs of students who would normally be assigned to APS.
If only all schools faced the same accountability
A couple of Michigan charter public schools are facing the harsh realities of being held accountable for performance.
The Academy of Flint and Lansing's Learn, Live, and Lead Entrepreneurial Academy are being shut down, because their authorizers determined they are failing to meet their contractual obligations. The schools are closing for different reasons, but both highlight the extra level of accountability built-in to Michigan's public charter schools.
According to MLive.com, Central Michigan University is not renewing the Academy of Flint’s charter because the school has failed to meet its prescribed student achievement goals. This is certainly unfortunate for the 400-some students whose parents thought this was the best option for their children, but charter public schools must not only attract parents to stay in business, they must also meet the requirements of their performance contract.
The Learn, Live, and Lead Entrepreneurial Academy does not have a poor student achievement record (it's only been open one year), but failed along other lines. According to MLive.com, the school opened late, missed testing deadlines and failed to post fiscal information publicly. These administrative malfunctions prompted its authorizer, Bay Mills Community College, to cancel its charter. The school's design and mission might hold promise for students, but if it cannot meet transparency and accountability requirements, it will have to shut its doors.
Since most parents actively shop for their children's schools, closing them is always difficult. Every school is some student's best available option. But closing charters for poor performance is necessary and required if Michigan wants to improve the educational opportunities that are available to students.
Since 1996, nearly 100 Michigan charter schools have closed for lack of performance. And closing charters for lack of performance is nothing new. According to the Center for Education Reform, about 15 percent of the charter schools opened nationwide since 1992 have been closed for performance-related issues.
Yet, charter public schools serve less than 10 percent of the public school students in Michigan, limiting the positive effects of this extra level of performance-based accountability.
If the state really wants to get serious about improving overall student achievement by shuttering poor performing schools, it would institute a similar level of accountability for all schools.
Schools no longer spending tax dollars to collect union dues
Two Mackinac Center experts were cited in The Oakland Press and The Macomb Daily in stories about a recent court ruling that prohibits school districts from spending public money to collect dues for private unions.
“As a result of this decision, a school district does not have to collect dues or fees for any collective bargaining agreement that was entered into, extended or renewed after March 20, 2012,” said Patrick J. Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.
“This decision rightfully recognizes that government should not be a collection agency for a private organization,” added Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio.
New survey shows large support for tuition tax credits
Perhaps the best thing state legislators could do for Michigan moms would be to allow more educational options for children — at least according to the latest poll from the Friedman Foundation.
Mothers polled supported all varieties of school choice, including providing students with resources to attend public, private or religious schools.
Mothers of school-age children were surveyed by phone and asked whether they supported specific school choice programs. Nearly 70 percent of moms said that they support tax credit scholarships for students.
When asked about school vouchers, 66 percent of surveyed moms said that they supported them, with just 26 percent opposed. Mothers were much more supportive of vouchers than people who do not have children. Among different demographic groups, low-income earners and African Americans were some of the most supportive of school vouchers.
Moms also support universal eligibility for school choice: Two-thirds of surveyed moms support providing vouchers to all students, while just a third support limiting eligibility by income level. Young adults and African Americans were the demographic groups that were most supportive of universal eligibility. Republicans and independents were also supportive, while Democrats were less so.
It's hard to miss the educational establishment's fear of giving parents more control of where to educate their children. After all, public school officials started a lobbying organization with taxpayer money in order to oppose similar school reform measures. And officials have a vested interest (to put it bluntly, a paycheck) in preserving the existing system. But instead of worrying about the educational establishment’s latest email blast, legislators should pay attention to the opinions of those that our public education system is truly meant to serve.
Overall, moms of school-age children are supportive of school choice. Why not give them and their children more options? Brunch and flowers are nice for Mother’s Day, but a more lasting gift would be one that helps moms’ kids attend a school that best serves their needs.
Adjunct scholar says market should guide reform
Gary Wolfram, a Hillsdale College economics professor and adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center, writes in the Lansing State Journal that Michigan’s auto insurance laws should allow the market to influence the level of coverage drivers prefer to purchase.
Refillable beer, "electric carriages" and Obamacare
House Bill 4254, Exempt “electric carriages” from motor vehicle regulations: Passed 35 to 0 in the Senate
To exempt “electric carriages” from regulations and taxes authorized under the Michigan vehicle code. These are defined as “a horse-drawn carriage that has been retrofitted to be propelled by an electric motor instead of by a horse and that is used to provide taxi service.” The bill would benefit a Detroit operation called "Andre's Carriage Tours" by letting it operate statewide.
Senate Bill 27, Authorize refillable beer container sales: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate
To allow package liquor stores, beer and wine stores, bars and restaurants licensed to sell alcohol to refill clearly labeled “growlers” (sealable containers of up to one gallon) with beer for consumption off-premises. The Senate also passed by the same 37-0 margin bills allowing wineries to sell wine and offer tastings at farmers markets, subject to specified restrictions and fees.
Newly Introduced Bill of Interest:
House Bill 4714, Accept Federal Health Care Law Medicaid Expansion, with Conditions
With some fanfare House Republicans introduced a bill to accept the component of the federal health care law (“Obamacare”) that would expand Medicaid eligibility to families and childless adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, but make this contingent on the federal government allowing the state to implement specified Medicaid reforms. The bill is sponsored by Reps. Matt Lori and Al Pscholka.
The expansion was originally mandatory for states under the law passed by congress, but the Supreme Court ruled it can only be optional for states. Under current provisions, the feds are supposed to pay 100 percent of the expansion’s cost during the first three years (not counting administration costs), with the state responsible for not more than 10 percent of the costs starting in 2020.
In its current form, the reforms required by the bill appear to be “poison pill” ones the Obama administration would not approve. They include:
- A four year cap on Medicaid benefits for non-disabled adults.
- A requirement that non-disabled adult beneficiaries must contribute “up to” 5 percent of their income as deductibles, copays, etc.
- Allow the state to offer Health Savings Accounts for non-disabled adult beneficiaries.
- Allow non-disabled adults to choose a “contracted health plan” through the agency styled as the “exchange.” (All or most Michigan Medicaid recipients are already enrolled in contracted managed-care plans, so without the other reforms this would not appear to represent a significant change in the status quo.)
- Allow the state to impose “healthy behavior incentives” on non-disabled adults.
- Allow “telemedicine” services for beneficiaries.
- Impose a price cap on the amount hospitals can charge “uninsured individuals under 100 percent of the federal poverty level.”
- Require the federal government to permanently assume 100 percent of the state’s administration costs (this does not appear to apply to the state’s eventual 10 percent share of the actual benefit costs.)
Democratic legislators generally condemned the proposed reforms, especially the four-year time limit on benefits. However, along with hospitals and other special interests who are lobbying intensely for the Medicaid expansion, some of them characterized the bill as a “good starting point” for a possible compromise containing much weaker reforms the Obama administration would accept, or else one that merely requires the state to request federal permission to enact the reforms, rather than actually receive this permission.
The bill was referred to the House Committee on “Michigan Competitiveness,” chaired by Rep. Mike Shirkey.
Update: The bill's sponsors have told Michigan Capitol Confidential their intention is that after the first three years the federal government would continue to pay 100 percent of the benefits of those covered by the expansion, not just 100 percent the state's administration costs, which is what the text appears to call for. A potential amendment could clarify this.
In today's Michigan Capitol Confidential
It’s a popular saying for many: "Tax cuts don’t create jobs." Google it, and there are more than 100,000 results for that specific claim.
At this point, it is a truism for liberal politicians and commentators that tax cuts are ineffective.
But if lower taxes and more money for businesses to spend do not create jobs, how can the left support these tax breaks and subsidies?
Because the crux of this debate is not over whether an infusion of money creates jobs — it's over centralized planning.
Research Associate Jarrett Skorup addresses this issue in today’s Michigan Capitol Confidential.
Bus drivers call in 'sick'
The Detroit News reports that 15,600 students in the Walled Lake School District didn't have school Wednesday because bus drivers called in sick.
The Walled Lake school board last week voted to contract out for busing to save money. Walled Lake Superintendent Kenneth Gutman told The News that contracting will save the district $1.4 million a year.
In addition to that $1.4 million, Walled Lake will save money on workers' compensation and legacy costs, according to the West Oakland Spinal Column.
This money is not trivial — the district needs to erase a $10 million deficit. And, current bus drivers would have the opportunity to continue working with the district. Kellie Dean, the owner of the company that Walled Lake will contract with, told the school board Tuesday night that he wants to hire the district's current bus drivers, and that their seniority would be taken into account.
The bus drivers likely won't be paid as much, but how could they expect to, given the financial condition of the district? The money saved by contracting out transportation services will be used to forgo cuts in other areas: The district will have $1.4 million more to spend on educating students.
Public employee strikes are illegal in Michigan. However, "sick-outs" are common. On Dec. 11, some 26,000 Michigan students were denied their education because teachers in the Warren, Taylor and Fitzgerald school districts called in sick to protest pending right-to-work legislation. The president of the Taylor Federation of Teachers even received an award for it.
In 2011, about 40 percent of West Bloomfield teachers didn't show up to work to protest contract negotiations.
The Walled Lake bus drivers who called in "sick" likely will still receive their paycheck at the end of the month. Instead of being paid for a day spent using Walled Lake students to exact revenge on officials faced with tough decisions, the bus drivers should be fined.
Obamacare expansion wilts in Sunshine State
The Wall Street Journal reports that the part-time Florida Legislature has adjourned for the year without approving the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which Gov. Rick Scott famously flip-flopped into supporting earlier this year.
Here's how the Journal's editorial described the outcome:
The nine Republican governors who decided earlier this year to pump some helium into the Obamacare balloon and expand Medicaid forgot about that saving grace of American politics: the separation of powers. On Friday, Florida became the latest state to reject the expansion, as Gov. Rick Scott failed to convince the GOP-controlled legislature to approve his Medicaid flip.
Republicans in the Florida Senate tried to hide that body's vote to approve the expansion behind a false-flag of "conservative reform," including "private insurance," cost sharing and "incentives for healthy living," but as Avik Roy explained in Forbes, that was either dishonest or delusional:
(The reform claims) will come as a surprise to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which issued in March a memorandum clearly stating that anyone who takes federal dollars to cover the population slated for the Medicaid expansion would be governed by the Medicaid statute. 'Under all these [private insurance] arrangements,' wrote HHS, 'beneficiaries remain Medicaid beneficiaries and continue to be entitled to all [Medicaid] benefits and cost-sharing protections.'
Translation: Reform? Fuggedaboutit. The Florida House refused to go along with the ruse, killing the expansion by simply not bringing it up for a vote.
If there were any doubt about the chances making the Medicaid expansion contingent on reform, a recent HHS bait-and-switch denying an alternative proposed by Arkansas made clear that there will be no escape from the current program's dysfunctional structure and incentives.
The Wall Street Journal piece also shared new evidence about why state lawmakers should be wary of taking on this additional fiscal burden: "The Government Accountability Office reported last week that the average state 'fiscal gap' is 14.2% over the next 50 years, largely because of health care costs. That means states will need to raise taxes or cut spending or both by that amount — and that's before new Medicaid kicks in."
This is all very relevant to Michigan, because hints in the Lansing-insider newsletters and abundant rumors suggest our Republican-run Legislature may also try to hide an expansion approval vote behind a "reform" smokescreen.
Given the pressure lawmakers are under from special interests in the Hospital-Industrial Complex, whether they are in denial or trying to be sneaky with all the reform talk remains to be seen.