Contents of this issue:
  • MEA loses lawsuit against think tank

  • State House passes intermediate district reform bill

  • Failing schools to receive federal funds

  • COMMENTARY: "No Child Left Behind" not an unfunded mandate

  • Fennville district to outsource substitute teachers

  • Urban districts see rise in test scores

  • Some districts favor city buses over school buses and save

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Court of Appeals last Friday threw out a lawsuit brought by the Michigan Education Association (MEA) against the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research institute that quoted the union's president in a fundraising letter.

A three-judge panel unanimously concluded that the Mackinac Center's letter fell "squarely within the protection of the First Amendment," that there was no evidence the letter attempted to mislead its readers into believing the MEA president endorsed the Center's overall mission. The court said a lower court erred by not throwing out the suit.

In Sept. 2001, MEA President Luigi Battaglieri convened a news conference and told reporters, ". . . quite frankly, I admire what they [the Mackinac Center] have done over the last couple of years entering into the field as they have and being pretty much the sole provider of research to the community, to the public, to our members, to legislators . . . ."

The Mackinac Center drew from that quote in a letter to its supporters and potential supporters, pointing out that even an individual who usually disagrees with the Center recognized its effectiveness.

MEA spokeswoman Margaret Trimer-Hartley said Friday that an appeal is unlikely, but union officials maintain the Center improperly used Battaglieri's name for commercial purposes. In legal proceedings, however, Battaglieri acknowledged that his union had used without permission the names of famous golfers "Woods," "Nicklaus," and "Palmer" to promote a union golf tournament fundraiser.

"This is a great victory for free speech," said Joseph Lehman, Mackinac Center executive vice president. "We hope the union will stop wasting teachers' dues on frivolous lawsuits that don't even make it to trial."

"Ironically," Lehman said, "the quote the MEA tried to suppress received vastly greater attention after the union's lawsuit brought nationwide publicity."

The Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice provided legal representation to the Mackinac Center for free. The Mackinac Center is the publisher of Michigan Education Digest.

Opinion issued by State of Michigan Court of Appeals, March 18, 2004, a PDF file. 20040318_C245862_57_245862.OPN.PDF

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Victory for Free Speech: Michigan Appeals Court Sides With Think Tank, Rejects Teachers' Union's Lawsuit," March 19, 2004

Detroit Free Press, "Court rejects suit about endorsing a rival," Mar. 22, 2004

Detroit News, "MEA loses lawsuit," Mar. 19, 2004

Booth Newspapers, "Court upholds think tanks' right to quote teacher union head in fundraising letter," Mar. 20,2004 1079734201239910.xml

Midland Daily News, "Mackinac Center wins, teacher union loses," Mar. 20, 2004 (free registration required) news.cfm?newsid=11151009&BRD=2289&PAG=461&dept_id=472542&rfi=6

LANSING, Mich. — The state House last week overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow residents to recall intermediate school district (ISD) board members for failing to meet expectations. The bill, introduced by Rep. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, steps towards a remedy for several instances of financial mismanagement and abuse in intermediate districts, most notably the Oakland Intermediate School District.

In its original form, the bill would have required all ISD board members to be selected by general election rather than by local school board officials. However, opposition to that clause forced sponsors to alter the wording of the bill to allow ISDs to keep their current choice between general election and appointment. Rep. Ken Bradstreet, R-Gaylord, supported the original wording requiring election of all ISD officials and criticized those supporting the current system. "I don't think it's a case of overreacting," he told the Detroit News. "Never before have I seen a group so intent on preserving the status quo."

Detroit News, "House OKs school reform bill," Mar. 19, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Eliminate Intermediate School Districts," August 2003

Michigan Education Report, "What Are Intermediate School Districts?" Winter 2000

Michigan Education Report, "Group files complaints against districts," Spring 2000

LANSING, Mich. — Millions of dollars in federal funds guaranteed to failing schools under the "No Child Left Behind" Act will be dispersed by the Michigan Department of Education to help overhaul the schools' plans for educating students.

Each of the 109 failing schools will receive $45,000 from the federal Department of Education to work on a restructuring plan that could range from staff reorganization to takeover by the state or by a private company. If test scores do not improve by next year, schools must implement the plan.

State Superintendent Tom Watkins said he might request additional time from the federal government for restructuring before requiring schools to undergo severe changes.

Detroit News, "Federal money helps 109 failing Michigan schools," Mar. 19, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "President signs 'No Child Left Behind Act'," Winter 2002

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Fall 2002

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A commentary printed last week in Education Week argues that the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) reform act is not an unfunded mandate as described by critics, but is actually just a reorganization of current levels of state and federal funding.

Authors Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West, both of Harvard University, wrote that extra funding to implement NCLB reforms is unnecessary, as the reforms mandated by the law are relatively inexpensive. "The costs of setting standards, testing students, and releasing results to the general public are trivial, compared to the cost of public schooling more generally."

The authors point to a study by Harvard University economist Caroline Hoxby examining the cost of school accountability systems in 25 states. The study found that such systems cost anywhere from $2 to $34 per student, while the average total spent per pupil is nearly $10,000. "In short," wrote Peterson and West, "the true costs of the No Child Left Behind Act are no more than 0.2 percent of the total cost of public schooling. ... Far from being an unfunded mandate, the No Child Left Behind Act may be providing designer clothes at a bargain-basement price."

Education Week, "The Contentious 'No Child' Law II: Money Has Not Been Left Behind," Mar. 17, 2004 (free registration required)

Michigan Education Report, "President signs 'No Child Left Behind Act'," Winter 2002

FENNVILLE, Mich. — In a move to cut costs, the Fennville School District is planning to privatize as many positions as possible, beginning with substitute teachers.

Beginning next school year, the district will contract with Kalamazoo-based Workforce Strategies, Inc. to provide substitute teachers and other necessary staff to replace the current in-house system. District officials say the switch will save the district modest amounts at first, but will reduce the amount spent hiring substitutes drastically in the future.

By contracting out the hiring of substitutes, the district will save on contacting and training substitutes, on retirement pay, background checks and health care. "We don't have an exact dollar figure on what we will save yet," district Financial Director Delores McMullin told the Holland Sentinel. "But it will definitely be worth doing."

Holland Sentinel, "District to begin outsourcing subs," Mar. 22, 2004

Michigan Privatization Report, "Substituting the Private for the Public," February 2000

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A report released last weekend says several large, urban school districts made noticeable improvements in test scores over the past year, identifying several reform tactics that work to increase student performance in those settings.

The report by the Council of Great City Schools, which represents 60 large districts, says a sample group of students scored several percentage points higher in math and reading. The number of urban fourth-graders scoring at proficient levels on reading tests rose 4.9 percent in 2003 to 47.8 percent, while on math tests the number of proficient students rose 6.8 percent to 51 percent. Eighth-graders showed similar but smaller gains.

Some experts are reluctant, but willing to give credit to the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2002. "It would be difficult to give sole credit to No Child Left Behind, but it deserves some credit," Michael Casserly of the Council told USA Today. But Michael Pons, spokesman for the National Education Association, was quick to deny such credit. He said the improvement "does not reflect an overnight change or something that's been done since a federal law was passed."

USA Today, "Test scores in large urban school districts make big strides," Mar. 21, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Defies Its Demographics," Nov. 1, 2000

DENVER, Colo. — The Denver Public Schools approved a plan last week to replace busing for older students with a contract with city buses rather than the traditional yellow school buses, saving money and offering more choices to students in schools. According to an analysis by the Denver school board, the move could save the district up to $750,000 annually. With the new system, schools will be able to offer classes through 4:15 p.m., offering more class choices to students and allowing some to begin their school day as late as 9 a.m.

The district joins other large districts in its decision, including San Diego, San Francisco and Dayton, Ohio. "The main thing this will do is provide us with a lot more flexibility," Denver superintendent Jerry Wartgow told the Rocky Mountain News.

Rocky Mountain News, "School buses may be phased out," Mar. 18, 2004 0,1299,DRMN_957_2738764,00.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Contract Out School Services Before Laying Off Teachers," Nov. 20, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Habit 2: Take Advantage of Cost Savings Through Outsourcing Non-Instructional Services," Dec. 3, 2002

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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