Contents of this issue:

  • Teacher privatization among reform ideas
  • Reaction mixed on mandatory schools of choice
  • Melton leaving Legislature for education reform job
  • Highland Park under financial review
  • Feds ease special education spending rule

Teacher Privatization among Reform Ideas

LANSING, Mich. — Teacher privatization is one part of an education reform package expected to be taken up by state lawmakers this fall, and while the Michigan Education Association has already criticized the idea, the Michigan Association of School Boards said it could be a good option for districts, according to the Michigan Information & Research Service Inc.

School districts already are allowed to hire private firms to provide bus drivers and other support staff, but could expand that to include teachers under legislation being prepared for review, MIRS reported.

Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, told MIRS that the reform package also includes lifting the cap on state university-chartered public charter schools and a mandatory, statewide schools-of-choice program.

"I look at it as offering options," Pavlov told MIRS. He said that teachers hired privately would have to have the same qualifications as current instructors, MIRS reported.

Doug Pratt, spokesman for the Michigan Education Association, called the idea “terrible” and said it would turn over schools to “Wall Street,” MIRS reported. Peter Spadafore, assistant director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said it could be a good option for districts as long as it isn’t mandatory, MIRS reported.


Michigan Information & Research Service Inc., “Privatizing teaching jobs in Senate package,” Aug. 29, 2011 (Subscription required)

Michigan Information & Research Service Inc., “School boards open to optional teacher privatization,” Sept. 2, 2011 (Subscription required)


Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Michigan school districts embrace privatization,” Aug. 16, 2011

Reaction Mixed on Mandatory Schools of Choice

HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. — Harbor Springs Public Schools wants to have the “right size” enrollment for its budget and programs, the district superintendent told the Harbor Light newspaper, a goal that may or may not be affected by a proposal for mandatory “schools of choice” across Michigan.

Gov. Rick Snyder has suggested that all public school districts be required to accept students from other districts if they have space available, the Harbor Light reported. Right now districts have the option to offer seats to nonresident students.

Supporters say a mandatory program would mean more children could attend higher quality schools, The Detroit News reported separately, but critics said it would take away local control from districts.

Harbor Springs used to have an open-door policy, but ended it several years ago for financial reasons, Superintendent Mark Tompkins told the Harbor Light.

The district is one of relatively few in Michigan that are funded primarily through local property tax revenue instead of per-pupil aid from the state, Tompkins told the Harbor Light. In recent years, as taxable values and tax revenue declined, additional students would have increased costs without increasing revenue, he said, the Harbor Light reported.

Elsewhere, some Grosse Pointe Public Schools residents are objecting to the plan, calling it an issue of local control, The Detroit News reported. Others said that districts that object to open-door policies simply don’t want to deal with students enrolling from poorer-performing districts, according to The News.


Harbor Light, “Schools of choice may be forced on Harbor Springs by state legislation,” Aug. 31, 2011 (Subscription required)

The Detroit News, “Choice, local control at odds in Michigan schools,” Aug. 28, 2011


Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Grosse Pointe State Rep: Public Schools Must Control ‘Who is Allowed to Attend,’” Aug. 30, 2011

Melton Leaving Legislature for Education Reform Job

LANSING, Mich. — State Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, is leaving the Legislature to take a position with the education reform group StudentsFirst, The Oakland Press reported.

Melton, former chairman of the House Education Committee, said he wants to advocate for education reform at the national level and also that he wants more time for his young family, The Press reported.

StudentsFirst was established in 2010 by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of public schools in Washington, D.C. The organization advocates for greater school choice, rewarding and retaining teachers based on their impact on students, and school spending that focuses on student results, according to the policy agenda at its website.

Melton was elected to his third two-year term in November and cannot seek a fourth term because of term limits, according to The Press. His last day in the Legislature will be Friday.


The Oakland Press, “Melton to quit Legislature to advocate for education reform,” Aug. 30, 2011


Michigan Capitol Confidential, "Michigan Democrat: Teacher Union Leaders Are 'Disconnected', Sept. 2, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “A First Step,” June 16, 2009

Highland Park under Financial Review

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. — Michigan’s top education official has asked Gov. Rick Snyder to assign a financial review team to the Highland Park School District, saying the district is in financial distress, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Mike Flanagan, State Superintendent for Public Instruction, cited a nearly $20 million deficit, a sharp drop in enrollment and an audit that disclosed poor cash management as reasons for his request, the Free Press reported.

The move could bring the district closer to having an emergency financial manager appointed to oversee operations, but a Highland Park school board trustee said such a step wouldn’t be necessary, according to the Free Press.

Robert Davis, board secretary, said the district is working to eliminate the deficit, citing last year’s privatization of custodial, food service and security services and a new effort to share services with the Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency, the Free Press reported.


The Detroit Free Press, “State schools chief seeks financial review for Highland Park school district,” Aug. 30, 2011


Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Common School Funding Myths,” Sept. 7, 2010

Feds Ease Special Education Spending Rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. — School districts may have more leeway to cut special education budgets now than in the past, Education Week reported.

In the past, school districts that permanently reduced their special education budgets faced possible loss of federal funding, with limited exceptions, Education Week reported. This was intended to protect special needs students from sudden changes in services due to shifting public spending or politics, advocates told Education Week.

But in a recent letter offering new guidance, the federal Department of Education said that districts won’t necessarily face sanctions for reducing spending on special education or be required to restore those cuts, according to Education Week.

Special education advocates said the guidance is worrisome, but federal officials said students remain protected by the legal requirement that districts provide them with a “free, appropriate education,” Education Week reported.

A representative of the American Association of School Administrators told Education Week that it is unfair to ask school districts to reduce general education programs while leaving all special education services intact.


Education Week, “Feds Loosen Rules on Cutting Special Ed. Spending,” Aug. 31, 2011


Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Specializing in special education,” Feb.1, 2010

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), an online newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at med@educationreport.org

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