Contents of this issue:

  • Bill raising cyber charter cap moves to senate
  • Grand Rapids charter school to focus on fine, performing arts
  • MEA PAC is fourth biggest political fundraiser in 2012
  • Former Pontiac administrator accused of spending $300K
  • Preliminary financial review for Pontiac schools
  • Mackinac Center hosting online learning discussion

Bill Raising Cyber Charter Cap Moves To Senate

LANSING, Mich. – A bill raising the arbitrary cap on the number of cyber charter public schools allowed in Michigan narrowly passed the state House and has cleared the state Senate, according to The Detroit News. It now awaits Gov. Rick Snyder’s approval.

Under current state law, the number of cyber charter public schools allowed to operate in Michigan is capped at two. According to the Lansing State Journal, the bill in question would raise that cap to 15 by 2014 and limit the number of cyber students to 2 percent of the state’s total student population. Currently, that limit would be around 30,000 students.

The State Journal reports opponents of the bill had raised a motion to reconsider in an effort to force a second vote. That motion was supported by many Democrats who had opposed the bill in the first vote.

“It’s a little bit hard to understand why you would put public policy in place you said you wanted to evaluate, David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, told the Journal. “The whole point of reconsideration was to … offer an opportunity for some additional thinking.”

Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, told The Journal there was no need for further consideration. He argued the fact that the bill was being amended right up until passage shows that anyone with concerns had a chance to voice them, noting that under the legislation passed by the House, “the cyber public schools now have more rigorous quality standards … than the traditional public schools do.”

SOURCES: Detroit News, “Senate bill sent to gov would allow cyber schools in Michigan,” May 3, 2012

The Lansing State Journal, “Michigan cyber school growth measure moves forward," May 1, 2012

FURTHER READING: Michigan Capitol Confidential, “House Votes To Raise Cyber School Cap," April 27, 2012

Grand Rapids Charter School to Focus on Fine and Performing Arts

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Officials at Lake Superior State University are expected to authorize a new charter public school in Grand Rapids focusing on the fine and performing arts, according to MLive. The school will be run by a local group, led by noted gospel singer Marvin Sapp.

Bruce Harger, director of charter schools for LSSU, recently met with four of the five school board members for the Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology. Harger told MLive the meeting was to familiarize board members with the role they will play at the school.

“Their role being governance, not management, not operations,” Harger said. “It was also to help them understand they are public officials once they are sworn in. They have a duty, a responsibility to the public because that is who is footing the bill.”

Samantha Howell, president of the board and global business analyst for Amway Corporation, told MLive that the GREAAT school board was comprised of individuals who see a need for increased emphasis on the arts in public education.

“Most of us are products of the public school system and are passionate about the arts,” she said. “We know the academic and social benefits of participating in the arts for young people.”

SOURCE: MLive, “Gospel singer Marvin Sapp's new performing arts charter school is close to being authorized,” April 25, 2012

FURTHER READING: Michigan Capitol Confidential, “School Choice Advocates Cheer Lift of Charter Public School Cap,” Dec. 15, 2011

MEA PAC is Fourth Biggest Political Fundraiser in 2012

LANSING, Mich. – A recent report on money in state politics found the Michigan Education Association to be among the leading PACs for fundraising in 2012, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The $947,000 the MEA has raised so far this year puts it fourth behind the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, the House Democratic Fund, and the House Republican Campaign Committee, all of which have raised more than $1 million. According to the Free Press, the MEA is ahead of such groups as Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and the Michigan Association of Realtors.

The Free Press reports that the top 150 PACs have raised a combined $22.2 million so far this year. That number represents a 12.2 percent increase from the same point in the 2010 election cycle.

SOURCE: The Detroit Free Press, “Michigan PACs bring in $22.2M for 2012 elections,” April 30, 2012

FURTHER READING: Michigan Capitol Confidential, “MEA Concedes Large Percentage of ‘Conservative’ Teachers, Endorses 97% Democrats," Oct. 18, 2010

Former Pontiac Administrator Accused of $300K Shopping Spree

PONTIAC, Mich. – An Inkster school administrator has been accused of going on a “shopping spree” at district expense while working as an assistant superintendent for Pontiac Schools, according to WXYZ-TV. The station reports Inkster Superintendent Mischa Bashir racked up $300,000 worth of charges on a district-issued credit card while serving as an assistant superintendent in Pontiac, spending thousands of dollars at stores like Honey Baked Hams and Happy’s Pizza, all while the district’s deficit was growing by millions of dollars.

The expenses include almost $53,000 at the Pontiac-Detroit Marriot a few miles from the school, including a $12,341 bill charged days before Christmas. Bashir told The Oakland Press the expenses were for training and were covered by federal funds.

The FBI told The Press no charges have been filed against Bashir and no warrants have been issued. Charges have been filed against Jumanne Sledge, an assistant who worked under Bashir at Pontiac and moved with her to Inkster. Sledge is accused of embezzling $236,000 from Pontiac schools.

SOURCES: WXYZ-TV, “Administrator accused of going on $300,000 spending spree on school district's dime,” May 2, 2012

The Oakland Press, “Former Pontiac schools assistant superintendent denies TV report she mishandled funds,” May 4, 2012

FURTHER READING: Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “DPS Building Scandal Highlights Need For Transparency,” Sept. 24, 2009

Preliminary Financial Review for Pontiac Schools

PONTIAC, Mich. – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan has informed Pontiac Schools it will undergo a preliminary financial review, according to The Detroit News. The review is the first step in a process that could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager for the district.

In a letter to interim Pontiac Superintendent Walter Burt, Flanagan said he has “serious concerns about the financial viability of the Pontiac School District” because it has been "unable to implement elements" of a state-approved deficit-elimination plan, The News reported. According to The News, Pontiac was supposed to cut $1.7 million from its budget this year. Instead, it has seen its deficit grow by $1.5 million to a projected $26 million for the year. This caused the state to withhold Pontiac’s April 20 state aid payment.

According to The News, Burt remained confident the district would meet the deficit-elimination plan goals despite this setback.

"Our DEP states the district will cut $20 million from our deficit by the end of next school year. Additional measures will be implemented within the next week to reduce the deficit. We are very confident that by the end of June 2013, we will have exceeded our targeted goals,” Burt told The News. “That will bring us above the expected targeted goal for the 2013-2014 school year."

SOURCE: The Detroit News, “Mich. orders preliminary financial review of Pontiac schools,” May 1, 2012

FURTHER READING: Michigan Education Report, “Pontiac district found to be $24 million in debt," Nov. 26, 2011

Mackinac Center Hosting Online Learning Discussion

MIDLAND, Mich. – The Mackinac Center for Public Policy on May 23 at the Lansing Center will host former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, who is co-chair of the Digital Learning Council along with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to discuss how digital technology and online learning can improve educational outcomes and expand student opportunities. Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and author of the book “Raising the Grade: How High School Reform Can Save Our Youth and Our Nation.” The Mackinac Center publishes Michigan Education Digest.

Wise, a Democrat, was governor of West Virginia from 2001 to 2005 and served in Congress from 1983 to 2001.

SOURCE: Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “The Online Learning Revolution event featuring Bob Wise.”

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.

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