Public school districts and private schools should shoulder at least some of the financial burden of addressing the lack of basic skills among their graduates.
39. Schedule all school elections with general elections in November.
In the interest of greater public participation in the democratic process and
reducing onerous costs, all school-related issues that need voter approval
should be decided in the general election cycle that occurs each November.
Currently, Michigan school districts can call an election every six months. A
vote might be in February one year and June the next. Polling places for these
elections are often sites other than those used in general elections, and
citizens are confused even more when some districts have elections on days other
than the customary Tuesday.
By requiring that school governance and finance issues appear on the November
ballot, significantly more citizens will know the place and time of the election
and will exercise their right to decide how their schools will be run. Ballot
consolidation would also relieve school officials of the responsibility for
conducting elections and allow them instead to focus that time and money on
their primary responsibility educating children.
40. Exempt innovative schools and school districts from the requirements
of onerous state statutes and regulations.
Public policy should encourage teachers and administrators to recognize the
diversity of students and provide the array of educational programs that will
better address the varied ways children learn. These alternative education
programs, known as "schools within schools" and pioneered by New York City's
District 4, have demonstrated significant success.
If significant numbers of parents and teachers want to implement alternative
programs, the state superintendent of public instruction should be authorized to
exempt a school or district from state requirements that inhibit innovation and
to guarantee that freedom as long as educational progress is demonstrated.
Parents within the district wishing to enroll their child in a traditional
school or an alternative school should be free to do so.
Alternative schools should be free to adopt specific, written admission
standards. Standards may include, but need not be limited to
consideration of the capacity of a program, class, grade level, or school
student academic ability;
student behavior; or
an advance requirement of parental participation
41. Replace Michigan's public school "count day" with an average daily
Michigan should discontinue using a student count day to determine school
population and adopt an average daily membership (ADM) method for determining
the number of students attending a school on a daily basis. An ADM method would
take school attendance numbers over time and calculate the average number of
students attending school each day.
Currently, each district's pupil count is a blend of two count days. The
blend is comprised of 20 percent of the count taken on a day in February of the
prior school year and 80 percent of the count on a day in September of the
current school year.
States that use an ADM method of accounting for student attendance ensure that
schools are fairly compensated for students they actually teach. Schools with an
increase in attendance receive an increase in funding. Conversely, schools with
dips in attendance realize dips in funding. Schools are paid only for the days
that students attend school.
Not only would the ADM method of accounting for student attendance save the
state money, it also would encourage attendance. Determining a school's funding
amount based on average daily attendance would reward schools with consistently
low truancy rates. With just two count days, schools have been known to
artificially inflate their numbers by having pizza parties or using other
gimmicks on count days to bring in students not in attendance on a regular
basis. Additionally, students at their desks would truly represent funding for
school districts, encouraging schools to treat parents and students more like
42. Give schools "real-time" funding for their per-pupil portion of state
Currently, the state per-pupil grant, which is the bulk of public school
district funding, is paid annually. The remaining state aid is paid in eleven
equal portions on the 20th of every month, except for September. The per-pupil
grant should also be in monthly installments based on the "average daily
membership" count (see recommendation 41, above) for the previous month. Current
law presumes that attendance will remain constant for the entire year. But a
number of factors, such as immigration (immigrant workers' children) or
transfers from charter, public, or private schools, affect schools' population.
With "real-time" funding, schools would be able to accurately forecast the
amount of money that they will receive without the delay in funding. The dollars
would follow the student, and schools faced with sudden increases in students
are assured a fair share of educational funding. Additionally, school districts
would be forced to manage their funding on a cash flow basis based on student
attendance, much like other service providers (restaurants, hospitals, etc.).
43. Exempt public schools from the Prevailing Wage Act.
Earlier in this document, Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act was explained as
special-interest legislation designed to benefit organized labor at the expense
of anyone in the state who receives state tax dollars for a construction
project. The act, in effect, requires the payment of union-scale wages and tends
to lock out the majority of Michigan construction workers and firms that are
open (or "merit") shops. The act should be repealed in its entirety.
However, legislators who are unwilling to go the full measure should at least
provide relief to the state's public schools by exempting them from compliance
with the Prevailing Wage Act. Within the first five years, such an exemption
could save Michigan schools millions of dollars in unnecessary construction
costs-money that could be better used in the classroom. Legislators who oppose
such an exemption have no right to decry a shortage of funds for public
During the time the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act was not in effect-from December
1994 to June 1997-Michigan schools enjoyed 30 months of substantial savings. The
Hastings School District in Barry County, for example, was able to take
advantage of a nonunion bid for a $4.3 million construction project and saved 13
The Ohio Legislature in 1997 exempted schools from that state's prevailing wage
law-saving schools an average of 10.5 percent in construction costs, according
to the nonpartisan Ohio Legislative Budget Office. If Michigan were to follow
Ohio's lead, our schools would save at least $150 million annually-a figure that
represents 10 percent of average annual school construction costs and which is
equivalent to $90 for every student in the state.
For further information, please see
44. Strengthen the powers and responsibilities of local school boards.
Michigan public school boards should be encouraged by the Legislature, the
governor and his or her administration, and the State Board of Education to
remove exclusive representation clauses that require union permission
before employees can explore opportunities with other professional
negotiate compulsory support clauses out of their collective bargaining
agreements to maximize the rights and freedoms of individual public school
advise their employees of their rights under U.S. Supreme Court rulings
regarding union dues for noncollective bargaining purposes;
remove seniority-based salary schedules from their collective bargaining
agreements and institute performance-based pay scales that reward outstanding
teachers and attract the best people to the job of educating tomorrow's
competitively bid for teacher and support personnel health care packages
to ensure the best benefits at the lowest cost; and
competitively bid for noninstructional service providers. Privatization of
transportation, food service, building maintenance, and janitorial services
allows for cost savings on these budget items. Privatization also allows for a
reduction in the amount of oversight of these services by administrators and
an increased focus on classroom instruction.
These and many other suggestions for improving schools through changes in
school board collective bargaining policy are explained in the Mackinac Center
for Public Policy study, "Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the
For further information, see
45. Encourage innovative programs to enhance accountability in education.
Public school districts and private schools should shoulder at least some of
the financial burden of addressing the lack of basic skills among their
graduates. At least one school district has proposed some sort of "money-back
guarantee" for high school diplomas. In other words, if high school graduates
are unable to demonstrate mastery of basic skills, schools would have to pay for
at least some of the cost of remedial education for those students. This
financial responsibility would provide a further incentive to schools to ensure
that their graduates were minimally competent.
In September 2000, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy released a pioneering
study entitled, "The Cost of Remedial Education: How Much Michigan Pays When
Students Fail to Learn Basic Skills," by Dr. Jay P. Greene. (The study is
accessible on the Internet at
www.mackinac.org/3025.) It showed that the annual cost to the state's
businesses and universities of the failure of Michigan students to acquire basic
skills in high schools is $601 million per year. One of the study's
recommendations was for schools to provide a "money-back guarantee." As it turns
out, there is at least one public school district in Michigan that has been
doing that successfully for several years: Rockford Public Schools, near Grand
Rapids. It's a model that ought to be encouraged all across the state. For more
information, read a commentary by the Rockford Public Schools Superintendent
Mike Shibler on the Internet at
46. Enact "Freedom School" legislation.
As first proposed in 1993 by Mackinac Center Senior Policy Analyst Dr. Gary
Wolfram, the "Freedom Schools" plan would introduce reforms to the public school
system that would help all children receive a quality education.
Here is how the plan would work. A supermajority of the parents of a school,
perhaps two-thirds, or a supermajority of the teachers in a school, perhaps
three-fourths, would have the ability to declare the school a "Freedom School."
This would set the school free from the current system and free from the school
district. The per-pupil school operating funds would then go directly to the
school rather than to the district headquarters. The school would be able to
operate independently of the district, setting its own curriculum, uniform
policy, personnel policy, etc. However, no child would be assigned to the school
(it would truly be a "choice" school), and thus the school would have to provide
an education that is better than the alternatives in order to retain and/or
The parents would elect a board to operate as the governing body of the school.
This would not require parents to run the day-to-day operations of the school.
There are several good management firms that operate public schools in Michigan.
To argue that parents are not capable of electing a board or running for the
board of a Freedom School is a red herring. According to Dr. Wolfram, in 1920
one in 15 adults in Michigan was on a local school board, and it's widely
acknowledged that they delivered high-quality education-in some respects, much
higher than we do today.
The building would remain the property of the school district. However, the
district would be required to rent the building at fair-market value to the
Freedom School. There are methods to set a fair-market value, such as an
appraisal of an assessor agreed to by both parties. Maintenance of the building
would be determined in the rental agreement.
Some have argued that poorly performing schools lack parental support, and thus
Freedom Schools would not arise in Michigan's poorest performing districts. This
theory could be tested by allowing Freedom Schools in the poorest performing
districts. One reason parental participation is low in districts such as Detroit
is the enormous size of the district and the inability of parents to truly
affect outcomes. Freedom Schools would provide this opportunity, and the
skeptics would be astonished at the interest of parents in their children's
education once the parents are given greater control.
47. Reform higher education.
The state universities of Michigan, like many of their counterparts across the
nation, are suffering from a general erosion of academic standards and a
politicization of the undergraduate curriculum. The traditional core curriculum
that once guaranteed that all graduating students shared in the same body of
knowledge and enjoyed the same competence in cognitive skills is in tatters. An
in-depth analysis of the undergraduate curriculum and recommendations for reform
are discussed in the Mackinac Center for Public Policy report, "Declining
Standards at Michigan Public Universities."
As proposed in that 1997 report, tenure rules on Michigan's campuses should be
changed to encourage teaching excellence. Alternative accreditation of English
departments, writing programs, and other humanities departments and programs
should be instituted. Teachers-in-training should take far fewer courses in the
education departments and schools of education and far more substantial courses
in subject areas. The rules and regulations against political indoctrination in
the classroom should be vigilantly observed and rigorously enforced. An
all-campus undergraduate core curriculum should be established so that all
students in state universities will undergo the essential core training and gain
exposure to common, high-level material in the arts and sciences.
To preserve the autonomy of the state's universities, the Mackinac Center
recommends that the Legislature not attempt to meddle directly by legislation in
the curricular and personnel affairs of those universities. To advance a
serious, statewide discussion of these and other reforms recommended in the
report, the Mackinac Center calls on the governor to appoint a special
commission for the purpose of reviewing those recommendations and examining
university issues such as curriculum and tenure.
For further information, please see