But still protests when schools do it
The Michigan Education Association is a large critic of school boards hiring private companies to provide noninstructional services, such as custodial, food and transportation. But the union uses this often fiscally responsible practice itself, as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has documented several times in the past.
The most recent example is revealed in this video that features MEA employees attesting to how great outsourcing their dues collection services was. In it, MEA representatives admit that their "in-house" attempts to collect dues were "not reliable, and inaccurate." They also admit that their accounting was shoddy — apparently the union didn't know if its "accounts receivable were correct or not."
In explaining its decisions to hire a third-party to run its dues collection services, the MEA makes a strong case for why school districts should explore outsourcing, too.
As a membership organization, the MEA's main purpose should be representing the best interests of its members, and developing and managing an online payment system is not in its wheelhouse. The same applies for school districts. They are in the business of educating students, and they often can do better by leaving the noninstructional services to the experts.
So the next time MEA officials argue that there's something inherently wrong with schools outsourcing, remind them of all the reasons they do it themselves.
Free Press should use better metric
Just a year ago, the Detroit Free Press had high praise for Thirkell, an elementary school in the conventional Detroit Public Schools district.
Reporter Lori Higgins wrote that Thirkell was "defying the odds by posting strong proficiency rates on the MEAP..." Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson characterized Thirkell in a column as having an environment of "focus and consistency," with a "dynamic and skilled" principal.
However, in a week-long series, the Free Press has repeatedly criticized charter public schools that have received low rankings on the Michigan Department of Education's "Top-to-Bottom" list. In a recent article, Higgins and co-author, Kristi Tanner, pointed to Top-to-Bottom rankings as evidence of poor charter performance. In a Sunday column, Henderson pointed to those rankings as proof of a "charter school mess."
And on Thursday, reporter David Jesse reported that Hope Academy, a charter public school, scored dismally in 2012-13, ranked below 99 percent of Michigan schools.
That year, Thirkell received the same ranking.
The issue is not that Thirkell is a bad school. Indeed, in 2013, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy identified Thirkell as the highest-performing Michigan elementary or middle school in the state. We were thrilled to celebrate Thirkell and seven other DPS schools for posting impressive academic results. Several of those other DPS schools would also be considered failures under the Free Press' analysis.
Hope Academy, in comparison, ranks in the top 70 percent of Michigan elementary and middle schools when poverty is considered.
The Mackinac Center recognizes the academic impact that outside factors can have on schools, and so produces an annual report card that adjusts for student socioeconomic status. This report card's methodology has since been replicated by the Center for Michigan. These independent report cards grade schools on how well they perform given their unique student population — instead of their neighborhood struggles.
An outgrowth of the Mackinac Center's report card work was publishing a study in October that strongly criticized the state's Top-to-Bottom ranking. In that study, we showed that the state's Top-to-Bottom ranking was essentially a proxy for poverty, instead of a measure of actual school performance. In other words, schools like Thirkell were being unfairly penalized by the state, simply because they tend to serve more low-income students compared to other schools around the state.
In the wake of that finding, I argued in the pages of the Free Press that the state should change the way it grades schools. I noted that under state law, schools that receive low Top-to-Bottom rankings can be forced to fire their principals, or even be closed. This law has already triggered principal dismissal in some Michigan schools.
Though the Free Press is arguing for increased regulations to penalize what it characterizes as failing charter schools, the newspaper has yet to mention the penalties already imposed upon low-ranked schools anywhere in its coverage.
By using the Top-to-Bottom list in an attempt to show that Michigan charter schools are poor performing, the Free Press is missing the mark and ignoring its own past reporting on the limitations of relying too heavily on these state rankings.
There's clearly more to a school than its rank on a poorly designed state metric. Free Press reporters have demonstrated that they understand this when it comes to some schools. Should they give the same consideration to others, namely charter schools? Or has the Free Press changed its mind about Thirkell?
Was a guest on "Capital City Recap"
Grad students saved from unionization
Both Gongwer News Service and MIRS Capitol Capsule included stories about the Michigan Employment Relations Commission’s recent decision to uphold it’s 1981 ruling prohibiting the forced unionization of graduate student research assistants at public universities in Michigan.
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation had represented some 370 GSRAs at the University of Michigan who objected.
Votes on “navigators,” pets, squatters, woodstoves, taxi-cartels, more
This report contains more votes from the very active final week of legislative sessions ending June 13, before an extended summer break.
Senate Bill 324, Require certification of federal health care law "navigators": Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate
To require certification for the individuals and organizations acting as "navigators" authorized by the federal health care law ("Obamacare") to assist individuals who apply for government subsidized health benefits through the law's exchange, including criminal background check and training in a program that protects the privacy and security of Michigan residents' personally identifiable information. The bill authorizes administrative sanctions and fines for individuals and organizations who violate various rules, including steering a person toward a particular policy.
Senate Bill 910, Ban enforcement of new woodstove emissions limits: Passed 25 to 12 in the Senate
To prohibit the Department of Environmental Quality from imposing new state woodstove and wood heater regulations, or enforcing new federal ones. The bill was introduced following news reports that proposed federal Environmental Protection Agency rules would impose restrictive new limits on wood heat.
Senate Bill 748, Revise protectionist Detroit limousine regulations: Passed 30 to 8 in the Senate
To allow Detroit to expand the scope of a city regulatory regime on limousines, by extending it to vehicles that can carry eight people including the driver. The limousine regulations have the effect of limiting competition to the taxi cartels that are protected by the city. The bill is sponsored by Detroit Democrat Virgil Smith Jr. and co-sponsored by Oakland County Republican Mike Kowall.
House Bill 5168, Facilitate DARTA operating Woodward streetcar: Passed 32 to 6 in the Senate
To authorize the Detroit area regional transportation authority created by a 2012 law to enter agreements to operate a potential Woodward Avenue streetcar in Detroit. The bill would exempt this project from a provision requiring unanimous action by the DARTA board for any form of rail passenger service, and specify that Detroit and Wayne County would be responsible for covering the line's operating deficits, and not other communities in the RTA.
House Bill 5070, Authorize penalties on rental property squatters: Passed 32 to 6 in the Senate
To authorize criminal penalties for a squatter who illegally occupies a residence, including up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for second and subsequent violations. Squatter is defined by the bill as someone who "at any time during that period of occupancy, occupied the property with the owner's consent for an agreed-upon consideration" but not a "guest or a family member of the owner or a tenant."
House Bill 4688, Repeal licensure mandates for dietitians and nutritionists: Passed 26 to 12 in the Senate
To repeal a law that imposes a licensure mandate on dietitians and nutritionists. The mandate has not been enforced since it was authorized in 2006 because the state licensure agency was unable to devise acceptable credentialing and education requirements.
House Bill 5558, Clarify pre-emption of insurance lawsuits under Consumer Protection Act: Passed 24 to 13 in the Senate
To clarify that a prohibition of "unfair practices" lawsuits against insurance companies under the state Consumer Protection Act (rather than the state's Insurance Code) applies even if the cause of action occurred before a 2001 law was enacted specifying that industries like insurance which are already subject to a comprehensive state regulatory regime are not covered by the Consumer Protection Act. Lawsuits that have already been filed could still proceed, however.
Senate Bill 948, Restrict radioactive material storage and disposal: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate
To prohibit storing or disposing radioactive waste from another state or country in Michigan, and ban storing any radioactive material other than what is allowed under current law for nuclear power plants, uranium mines and medical uses. The bill would also create a state advisory board for the purpose of writing a report on the potential impact of depositing radioactive waste deep underground at a site in Kincardine, Ontario, as proposed by an Ontario utility.
House Bill 5089, Create new pseudoephedrine "straw man" buyer crime: Passed 37 to 1 in the Senate
To authorize up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for purchasing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine while knowing that it will be used to manufacture methamphetamine.
Senate Bill 853, Ban automated eyeglass kiosks: Passed 108 to 2 in the House
To prohibit automated testing devices that provide eye exams and issue prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses. Instead, only licensed optometrists and physicians specializing in eye care could write eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions. This would pre-empt eyeglass kiosks in drugstores and other retail locations, which are reportedly a lower cost alternative to conventional optometry services and are available in some states.
Senate Bill 872, Reduce regulatory obstacles to developing stamp-sand property: Passed 67 to 43 in the House
To establish that property where "stamp sands" have been deposited is not subject to state environmental law restrictions unless the sands contain hazardous substances that exceed the allowable levels for unrestricted residential use. "Stamp sands" are finely grained crushed rock resulting from copper ore processing and are common in the Keweenaw region.
House Bill 4534, Mandate background checks for animal adoption: Passed 98 to 12 in the House
To mandate that animal shelters run background checks for animal abuse offenses on individuals wanting to adopt an animal, using an Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT) maintained by the State Police.
House Bill 4874, Limit protectionist local septic facility mandates: Passed 69 to 41 in the House
To restrict a local government's ability to mandate that septic tank servicers may only dispose of customers' waste in a facility whose territory is deemed to include those customers' property. This is said to protect a heavily indebted government facility in Grand Traverse County from losing business to less costly facilities. The bill would also limit local government rulemaking on applying septage waste to land.
SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.
Says Minnesota comparison "misses the mark"
The Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research think tank, says a report by Michigan Future that claims Minnesota is more prosperous than Michigan because of its higher tax rate “misses the mark.”
You can read the entire piece at the Tax Foundations’ Tax Policy Blog: http://taxfoundation.org/blog/michigan-future-misses-mark.
Michigan Capitol Confidential critiqued the Michigan Future report here.
Beer and wine wholesalers gain, consumers lose
(Editor’s note: These are remarks delivered recently by Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative, to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.)
Thank you Commissioners. My name is Michael LaFaive and I am director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
I am here today to exercise my right to request the partial rescission of two rules, R.436.1625 (1-4) and R.436.1726 (1-2). These are commonly referred to as "post and hold" rules. As you know, these rules mandate posting of price schedules for beer and wine and the holding of those prices for a length of time depending on the product.
Research shows that these rules suffocate competition to the benefit of narrow special interests, such as Michigan's beer and wine wholesalers, and do so at the expense of consumers.
In fact, one working paper published in 2010 and titled, "State Regulation of Alcohol Distribution: The Effects of Post & Hold Laws on Consumption and Social Harms," found that such laws increased price of beer and wine by between 6.4 percent and 30 percent, depending on the product.
Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.
Vernuccio, teacher with host Neil Cavuto
Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio and recently retired teacher Lisa Jelenek were on Fox News Wednesday with host Neil Cavuto, discussing how the Michigan Education Association is threatening the credit ratings of teachers who have stopped paying union dues under Michigan’s worker freedom act by turning them over to collections agencies.
Vernuccio also appeared on The Blaze TV with host Andrew Wilkow to discuss the matter.
An intern's brush with bureaucracy
Gathering up-to-date public pension data is no trivial task. While all municipalities are required to report basic accounting and financial information, many make it quite difficult to obtain.
Cities and townships are required to file audits and most list a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) with this information. But just because the reports have to be filed doesn't mean they are easy to find. Even among Michigan's 100 largest municipalities, there are large discrepancies between how the reports are posted online.
Taxpayers should take note because politicians across the spectrum and at all levels of government talk about working for the people and increasingly many promise transparency. But a look at how CAFR reports are filed shows there is a lot of work to do.
The first problem is how the information is presented on the CAFR itself. Many start with a title page and an introduction to the report. From there, it seems there is no order other than broad section requirements of introductory, financial and statistical sections. This means that to find the type of pension plan the municipality offers and the statistics behind it, you have to sort through every page after the introduction.
Using keywords to search helps, but many CAFR reports are uploaded in one giant picture format scanned onto the computer instead of an easy-to-read, text-based PDF file that would cooperate with shortcuts.
Another problem is the delayed posting of information. The reports are to contain information updated through the end of the third quarter, which was June 30 (based on an Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 fiscal year). But when searching in June, many municipalities still didn’t have the information through June 30, 2013.
Michigan's Department of Treasury also provides a link to CAFRs from cities and townships. But when that data is old, or not even posted, it requires a visit to the municipalities' main website. Some CAFRs still weren't there. What good is this depth of information if by the time you are able to view it the information is out-of-date and irrelevant?
That forces people to then reach out to local public employees for the current information, but when contacted, some were unsure of what the information was, or how to get it.
In one township, the treasurer passed the note on to another employee and wrote: "I think that this request may fall in your area."
She responded: "A CAFR is the annual budget/audit. I'll send this to [name withheld]. Not sure if it's legit."
Eventually, I got the information.
Taxpayers deserve better, especially for documents that are supposed to be readily accessible and up-to-date.
(Editor's note: This column has been slightly modified since its original posting.)