Charter school property could sell

A Lansing-area charter school is caught between competing pieces of proposed legislation. Senate Bill 940, introduced by former Sen. Virg Bernero, who is now the mayor of Lansing, would convey the site of the former Michigan School for the Blind to the city of Lansing for fair market value. Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy, a K-8 public school academy, now leases part of the property. House Bill 5354, introduced by Rep. Michael Murphy, D-Lansing, would also allow the property to be sold at fair market value, but would require the state Department of Management and Budget to first offer the property to the charter school. Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy would have 180 days to decide whether or not to purchase the property. HB 5354 would set fair market value at an amount equal to the average of three separate appraisals done by three independent appraisers. Murphy’s bill says the first 5 percent of net revenue from the sale, or $50,000, whichever is less, would go toward the Newsline for the Blind Fund. Another 5 percent or $50,000, whichever is less, would go toward the Michigan School for the Blind Trust Fund to support Camp Tuhsmeheta in Greenville, with the balance would go to the state’s General Fund. HB 5354 was referred to the House Committee on Regulatory Reform. SB 940 was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Drug guidelines in schools

House Bill 5696, introduced by Rep. David Law, R-Commerce Township, would require public schools to formulate guidelines concerning behavioral issues and psychotropic medications, such as Ritalin, for students. The bill would allow school personnel to discuss behavior problems with parents, refer students for educational and health evaluations with parental consent and take steps to provide special education services. Schools would also have to implement a policy regarding psychotropic medication that is consistent with existing state policy. The bill was referred to the House Education Committee.

Sinking fund expansion

Legislation in the state House could expand the ways in which school districts are able to spend sinking fund tax dollars. House Bill 5709 would allow money sinking fund tax dollars to be used for purchasing school buses, or for the purchase, installation or equipping of school buildings with technology. Schools would not be able to use the money to pay for diskettes, compact discs, videotapes, training, consulting, maintenance or software support. They would, however, be allowed to use the funds for hardware or communications devices used for pupil instruction. Current law restricts sinking fund money to the purchase of land and the construction or repair of school buildings. The bill was referred to the House Education Committee.

Bullying ban

Almost four dozen state representatives have co-sponsored a bill that would require schools to adopt a policy against harassment and bullying. House Bill 5616, now before the House Education Committee, requires the policy to be adopted with input from parents, school employees, students and administrators. The policy would also have to define what constitutes bullying, as well as identifying consequences for offenders.

MEAP confusion

House Bill 5635 is a one-sentence bill that would require the Department of Education to work with school districts and the federal government in case of distribution or logistical problems with the MEAP test or other assessment tests that are beyond the control of local districts to ensure schools and or students are not penalized. The proposed legislation aims to protect districts from being held accountable if paperwork is filed late due to a delay caused by a third party, such as a company hired to administer and score tests. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education.

Mandatory volunteerism

House Bill 4278 would allow parents to appeal a school district’s interpretation of "community service" in those districts where such mandatory volunteerism is a requirement for high school graduation. The bill passed 60-43 in the House on Feb. 21 and is now before the Senate Education Committee. HB 4278 does not, however, require a school board to do anything other than to hear the appeal.

Reading certification

A bill passed unanimously in the Senate and by an overwhelming majority in the House would require newly trained elementary school teachers to have additional training in reading instruction. Senate Bill 327 would increase the number of hours of continuing education in order for a teacher to become certified. The additional training would have to come during a teacher’s first six years of classroom employment and would focus on the diagnosis and remediation of reading disabilities. The bill is awaiting Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s signature.

College classes for high schoolers

Two bills introduced recently in the Michigan House could extend and expand some opportunities for high school students to take college-level courses. House Bill 5282 would eliminate the June 30, 2006 sunset currently in place for the Career and Technical Preparation Act. The act, passed in 2001, allows high school students to enroll at post secondary institutions and take courses or programs that teach a trade, occupation or a vocation. In either instance, the student’s home school district pays the cost of the courses using a pro-rated portion of that student’s state foundation grant. House Bill 5903 would allow high school juniors and seniors to enroll full-time in a state college, university or community college if they meet specific criteria. Eligible students must be at least 15 years old and have completed at least one-half of the necessary requirements for high school graduation, or score in the top 20 percent of a nationally-recognized college admissions exam. The bill would also require the student to be admitted to a college or university and enrolled full-time. The state would then pay a percentage of the student’s college costs out of that student’s foundation grant. Students must maintain a 2.0 grade point average to remain eligible, and would receive a high school diploma if they are awarded an associate’s degree or completes four full-time college semesters.

Books for non-students

Senate Bill 1174 would spend up to $1 million to give schools grants to purchase books for children not enrolled in school. The grants, available through a competitive process to conventional and intermediate school districts, would be used to buy one book every month for children from birth through age 5. A matching grant of local money is required to receive the tax dollars.