Contents of this issue:
  • Detroit mayor announces "work group" to study charters
  • Gov. Granholm withdraws state funding from laptop computer program
  • Health-care costs stalling Grand Rapids-area teacher contracts
  • High school grade inflation begets college remedial training
  • Probe of Oakland County school board spending expands
  • STUDY: College costs increase faster than inflation
  • School crime down, says report

DETROIT, Mich. — After participating in an acrimonious debate that caused philanthropist Robert Thompson to withdraw his offer to finance 15 new charter high schools in Detroit, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick now says he supports charter schools in Detroit, and has organized a group of Detroiters to study the matter.

Kilpatrick said new charters must involve the Detroit "school community," which he said includes local universities, businesses and Detroit Public Schools. But according to Jack McHugh, legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Kilpatrick rejected the Thompson deal because of pressure from the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which didn't want Thompson to control who ran the new charters.

"To be acceptable to the unions, any new charter school proposal from Kilpatrick will have to guarantee that Detroit's school establishment will be in charge," said McHugh. "This goes against the whole idea of charter schools, which is that they be able to operate independently of the traditional public school system."

"Charter schools are extremely difficult for unions to organize," McHugh added.

Kilpatrick will offer his charter recommendations in a televised address Nov. 10, and will then pitch his proposal to Lansing lawmakers.

Detroit News, "Mayor revisits charters," Oct. 21, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Detroit School Establishment Turns Away $200 million Gift," October 2003

New York Sun, "A Better Idea," Oct. 15, 2003 getFiles.asp?Style=OliveXLib:ArticleToMail&Type=text/html&Path=NYS/ 2003/10/15&ID=Ar00802

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Charter Schools Don't Need More Michigan Department of Education 'Oversight,'" August 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Stop Beating Up on Charter Schools," November 2002

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

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan's state budget crisis has forced Gov. Jennifer Granholm to withdraw state funding from a program that would have provided laptop computers to Michigan students.

The laptop program, called "Freedom to Learn," is aimed at helping districts provide sixth-graders with laptop computers. But because of the state's projected fiscal year 2004 deficit of $900 million, Granholm will cut the $22 million program from the state budget, and will propose a scaled-down version that will use $17 million in federal funding for technology in schools aimed at helping students from low-income families.

House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy, wants to keep the program in the state budget. "The speaker believes this is an opportunity for kids that we can't let pass," said Johnson's spokesman Matt Resch. "The conversation is not over yet." A bid for a supplier is currently active.

Some local school officials fear they will be left with the task of training students and paying for maintenance of the computers, and have expressed reluctance to participate in the program.

Detroit News, "Michigan students won't get laptops," Oct. 24, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Giving Laptops to Sixth Graders Won't Improve Their Education," July 2003

GRAND RAPIDS — Disputes over the high cost of the Michigan Education Association-affiliated health-care plan known as MESSA, or Michigan Education Special Services Association, are stalling teacher and staff contract negotiations in the Grand Rapids-area school districts of Kentwood, Kenowa Hills and Lowell.

In the dispute, which affects 937 teachers and 517 support staffers in the three districts, teachers accuse administrators of trying to undermine their union. "This is about bashing MESSA," Sue Burt, an MEA representative negotiating in Kentwood and Kenowa Hills, told the Grand Rapids Press. "It's about getting rid of MESSA because they can't get rid of the MEA."

Administrators say teachers want to keep their "Cadillac"-level health coverage without sharing the costs. "We're not asking them to give up their Cadillac, but we're saying if you want to have the Cadillac you should help pay for that," Connie Gillette, Lowell's assistant superintendent for finance and personnel, told the Press.

Teachers' health-care costs in the three districts rose about 17 percent in the past year, compared to 14 percent nationally.

Grand Rapids Press, "Teachers, districts refuse to yield on insurance costs," Oct. 23, 2003 1066922129298530.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teachers Deserve Good Benefits; Schools Deserve to Know What They Cost," July 6, 1998

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Ensuring Insurance Competition," Sept. 1, 1998

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MESSA: Insurance for Political Power," Dec. 6, 1993

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," Nov. 1, 1993

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Across the nation, students with stellar high school grades are discovering they don't have the skills to make it in college, and must take remedial courses to make up for their deficiencies.

Wayne Camara, who oversees research for the College Board, told USA Today that performances on college admissions tests point to possible grade inflation. Fifteen years ago, says Camara, students with "A" averages accounted for 28 percent of SAT test takers. Today, 42 percent of college-bound seniors have "A" averages. But they score no better on the college admissions tests than did "A" students a decade earlier.

Some education experts say the trend is a clear sign that high school teachers are handing out high grades for weak work. Others say students aren't taking the rigorous math, science and writing classes in high school that they need to succeed in college and the workplace.

The result: Colleges and universities are having to spend precious resources on remedial courses, and mentoring and tutoring programs.

USA Today, "Grade inflation takes a toll on students; Many need remedial courses in college," Oct. 21, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," Aug. 31, 2000

LANSING, Mich. — A special House panel investigating alleged spending fraud in Oakland Schools voted last week to expand its audit to other intermediate school districts throughout Michigan where spending irregularities have been reported.

Accusations from former teachers and administrators about district practices sparked the expansion. "We're looking at what people have brought forward. It's usually from teachers or retired ISD administrators," Rep. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, told the Detroit News. Johnson declined to name all the districts under surveillance, but "It's a minority of the (57) intermediates in the state," she said.

Michael Flanagan, executive director of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, thinks the expansion of the legislative inquiry is getting out of hand. "There needs to be some reform in how board members are selected, with an open vote, and there needs to be an opportunity to recall board members," Flanagan said. "But what I'd worry about is if this gets to be a witch hunt."

Allegations against the districts include "excessive remuneration, inappropriate travel," and other "misappropriations," according to members of the committee investigating the districts.

Detroit News, "Oakland County school board probe widens," Oct. 22, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Eliminate Intermediate School Districts," Oct. 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A study released last week indicates that college costs increased 14-times faster than inflation at public institutions last year.

Private schools experienced a six-fold increase over the rate of inflation. "There is no denying the bad news released by the College Board today," David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He said increases can be blamed on cuts in state funding and shrinking endowment funds.

But Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the Journal-Constitution the problem has not been a lack of spending by states or the federal government, because "Hyperinflation in college costs has been pummeling parents and students for more than a decade." He added that "The bigger issue is whether institutions are accountable enough to parents, students and taxpayers — and clearly they are not."

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "College costs outpace inflation, study says," Oct. 22, 2003 news_f3693266c3a6016b00a7.html

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The number of students reporting violence or theft declined from 1995 to 2001, according to a new report from the U.S. departments of Justice and Education.

Students age 12 to 18 that reported school crime dropped from 10 percent to 6 percent during the period examined. Additionally, the rate of crime dropped from 48 per 1000 students to 28 from 1992 to 2001.

For those involved in school safety, those numbers are a relief. "The trend over a period of time is really a good trend, and that's what we have to look at, because change in school programs and policies takes a while to take effect," said U.S. Dept. of Education School Safety Director Bill Modzeleski.

CNN, "School crime on decline, report says," Oct. 24, 2003

Michigan Education Report, "'Zero-tolerance' policies aim to reduce school violence," Fall 2001

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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