Contents of this issue:

  • Grand Rapids split over granting charter
  • Recall group denies MEA backing
  • Plan would reduce funding for half-day kindergarten
  • Like many, Michigan excused from some NCLB provisions
  • Pension boards sue over emergency manager law

Grand Rapids Split over Granting Charter

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The school board in Grand Rapids Public Schools is split over whether or how to make Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy a charter public school, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Supporters say the move is necessary to protect the school’s autonomy and flexibility, while opponents say it would set the wrong precedent and that the school can be successful by working within the conventional school system, The Press reported.

Right now the school is a public-private enterprise between the district and area business leaders, according to The Press. It has 260 students in sixth- through ninth-grade and will expand to 10th grade next year, the report said. Students are chosen to attend through a lottery.

As a charter, the school would have more freedom to follow its individualized, college-preparatory curriculum, and also would have more control of staffing because it would not be subject to “bumping” rights from tenured teachers in other Grand Rapids public schools, the school’s officials said, according to The Press.  

“It sets a bad precedent that charters are the answer and I don’t think they are,” said GRPS board member Jon O’Connor, according to The Press. “They still haven’t convinced me they can’t work within the system.”

Others said the school offers parents an important choice, The Press said.

The Grand Rapids Press, “Grand Rapids school board divided over granting UPrep charter request,” April 22, 2011

Michigan Education Digest, “DPS: Here’s what we want in a charter operator,” April 8, 2011

Recall Group Denies MEA Backing

LANSING, Mich. — Charges that a group working to recall Gov. Rick Snyder is a front for the Michigan Education Association were levied by the Michigan Republican Party last week after the recall organizers provided a union fax number in documents filed with the state, according to media reports.

The group, Michigan Citizens United, is made up of a variety of individuals, including some MEA members, a spokesman told The group’s treasurer, Gail Schmidt of Omer, is an MEA field assistant.

Doug Pratt, a spokesman for the MEA, told The Detroit News that the union is not involved in the recall effort and that it is looking into use of the fax number.

The Michigan Republican Party denounced the recall effort in a press release, The Detroit News reported.

"Why are teachers' union dues being spent on an effort to recall a governor who took office less than five months ago?" state GOP Chairman Robert Schostak was quoted in the release.

Michigan Citizens United filed the recall petition in Washtenaw County on April 18, but cannot begin collecting signatures until the county elections commission conducts a hearing on whether the wording on the petition is clear, reported.

The Detroit News, “Snyder recall effort blasted,” April 19, 2011, “Group files petition in Ann Arbor seeking recall of Gov. Rick Snyder,” April 18, 2011

Michigan Education Digest, “Union recommends Democrats to its conservative members,” Oct. 26, 2010

Plan Would Reduce Funding for Half-Day Kindergarten

MUSKEGON, Mich. — School districts that offer half-day kindergarten are weighing their options in view of a proposal to reimburse them at half the current amount per pupil, The Muskegon Chronicle reported.

Traditionally those districts have received full per-pupil funding for half-day kindergarteners, but the Michigan Senate Republicans’ budget proposal suggests a move to half-funding, according to The Chronicle.

Some school districts are planning to expand to full-day kindergarten, though it will mean adding teachers, while others say they can't afford to increase their staff or don't have enough room, The Chronicle reported.

Similar proposals have failed several times before, The Chronicle reported.

Whitehall District Schools Superintendent Darlene Dongvillo told The Chronicle it would cost $250,000 to double the district’s kindergarten staff, which would keep class size at about 20 students.

The alternative is to lose about $600,000 in per-pupil funding, she said, according to The Chronicle.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Muskegon-area schools analyzing plan to cut half-day kindergarten funding," April 23, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “ Weekly Roll Call Report,” April 22, 2011

Like Many, Michigan Excused from Some NCLB Provisions

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Education Secretary Arne Duncan granted 315 waivers in 2009 that excused school districts from parts of the No Child Left Behind Act, including some in Michigan, according to Education Week and federal documents.

Duncan has approved hundreds more waivers than his predecessor, Margaret Spellings, who allowed 91 waivers over four years, Education Week reported. Some take the increase to reflect districts’ growing worry over the NCLB requirement that all students be “proficient” in reading and math by 2014, Education Week reported.

The Michigan waivers related mostly to the supplemental services that Title I schools “in need of improvement” must provide to students, such as after-school tutoring, according to a federal report.

The waivers allowed some districts to provide the tutoring themselves, rather than using an outside agency; to provide tutoring rather than offer the student the option of attending another school; and excused districts from counting federal stimulus funds as revenue when calculating the amount they were obliged to spend on supplemental services, the report said.

Other states have received waivers related to standardized testing, according to Education Week. In Kansas, one district was allowed to substitute customized tests developed by ACT Inc. for the state’s version, the report said.

A U.S. Department of Education spokesman said the Kansas waiver was granted only because the district’s new tests are expected to be more rigorous than the state’s, according to Education Week.

Some legislators have called for more transparency in how and why waivers are granted, the article said.

Education Week, “Duncan Issues Far More Waivers Than Predecessors,” April 22, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Another Year of Hollow School Progress Reports,” Aug. 23, 2010

Pension boards sue over emergency manager law

DETROIT — Pension officials for Detroit city workers are suing Gov. Rick Snyder over the new emergency financial manager law, saying it violates contract rights protected by the state Constitution, according to Bloomberg news.

The new law broadens the authority of state-appointed financial managers, giving them the power to terminate employee contracts and suspend collective bargaining, Bloomberg reported.

Snyder said the law will help keep Michigan communities out of bankruptcy, according to Bloomberg. Michigan has emergency managers running the Detroit Public Schools and the cities of Pontiac, Ecorse and Benton Harbor.

The complaint was filed by the General Retirement System of the City of Detroit, the Policy and Fire Retirement System and four individuals, according to Bloomberg. It asks for a court order preventing the law from taking effect. The complaint also alleges that the broader powers allow for seizure and control of retirement systems, Bloomberg reported.

A spokesman for the governor didn’t immediately return a call for comment, Bloomberg reported.

Bloomberg, “Detroit Pension Boards Sue Michigan Governor Snyder Over Emergency Powers,” April 19, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Acts of God: Don’t like the EFM Law? There’s an alternative: Rein in government employee unions,” April 20, 2011

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, an online newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at

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