Contents of this issue:

  • Union write-in campaign fails in Kalamazoo

  • MEAP date changes met with mixed sentiment

  • Senate shifts more money to overspent school aid fund

  • Searches of Detroit students spark ACLU lawsuit

  • Study: Many high school exit tests inadequate

  • Cleveland district faces $100 million deficit

  • Demand for D.C. vouchers exceeds available slots

  • School choice twist? District may have transferred poorly performing students to raise schools' scores

  • Supreme Court dismisses Pledge of Allegiance case


KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Write-in candidates sponsored by the Kalamazoo school district's school employee union failed to garner the necessary votes in last night's county-wide election to displace incumbents. The attempt to stack the board with union-friendly members came after extended and heated contract talks.

During the 2003-2004 school year, union and district officials were embroiled in contract negotiations over a district request that teachers pay part of their health insurance premiums like most private sector workers. The union challenged that request in court, winning an injunction against the district.

The write-in candidates began a belated campaign to win seats on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education after many absentee ballots had already been cast. Many absentee voters didn't vote for school board candidates because they were running unopposed at the time. The Michigan Education Association (MEA) asked its members to support Nancy Schemanski, a retired representative for the Michigan Education Special Services Association (MESSA), the controversial union-linked insurance plan that many school boards are fighting to replace, and Sandra Parker, a vice president of United Auto Workers Local 6000.

Incumbents Tim Bartik and Polly Freer won board seats by a nearly three-to-one margins after an intense public campaign by the union and the write-in candidates during the last two weeks.

Kalamazoo Gazette, "Kalamazoo voters say no to MEA's stealth race," June 15, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/kzgazette/index.ssf?/base/columns-1/ 1087313029277470.xml

Kalamazoo Gazette, "Local voters reject school tax request," June 15, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/kzgazette/index.ssf?/base/news-9/ 1087312842277470.xml

WWMT, "June 14th School Elections," June 14, 2004

Kalamazoo Gazette, "Write-ins roil school election," June 8, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news-9/ 108671704453480.xml?kzgazette?NEKP

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan Education Association documents related to Kalamazoo write-in candidates, June 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Consolidating Elections Is The Right Thing To Do,"
December 2003

Michigan Education Report, "Consolidate School Elections with General Elections," Early Fall 1999


LANSING, Mich. — The State Board of Education this month agreed by a 7-1 vote to move testing dates for several Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests from winter to early fall, delighting some educators and inciting concern in others.

MEAP tests for elementary and middle-school students will be administered in October rather than the current dates in January and February so schools will be able to receive students' test scores mid-Spring. "This allows the staff to use the data to help improve the teaching of children," State Board vice president Herbert S. Moyer told the Monroe Evening News. "Teachers can have the results in a timely fashion so they use it as a diagnostic test," he said.

Others expressed concern that the tests would no longer serve the function of testing what students had learned throughout the year, but recognized the advantages of being able to give teachers a tool to tailor the education of each student during the second half of the school year.

But Randy Monday, assistant superintendent of secondary education for Monroe Public Schools, sees the change as state wrangling into local affairs, forcing out the autonomy of local school boards and administrators.

Monroe Evening News, "MEAP change reaction mixed," June 9, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How Does the MEAP Measure Up?" December 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "POLICY BRIEF: Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" May 2002


LANSING, Mich. — State legislators earlier this month found a way to shift $50 million to the school aid fund, possibly negating the need to cut $28 per pupil, or less than one-half of one percent of the state foundation grant.

The Michigan Senate voted unanimously to shift $50.1 million from the state's general fund to balance the school aid fund for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. "It sends a message that the school aid fund will be maintained whole," said Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming. "It'll be the No. 1 priority in the budget deliberations."

The shift does not, however, fix a current $200 million deficit in the state's aggregate budget. In fact, the funding shift caused the general fund deficit to rise to $250 million this fiscal year.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed last month an increase in cigarette and liquor taxes to help cover the shortfall, and is actively urging legislators to take her idea to a vote. Even with a sin tax hike and other, smaller measures totaling $110 million, the state projects it will still need to close the remaining $140 million deficit by spending cuts or more tax hikes.

Oakland Press, "Senate resolves school budget shortfall," June 9, 2004
http://www.theoaklandpress.com/stories/060904/ loc_20040609049.shtml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's Budget Challenge"

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002


DETROIT, Mich. — A police search of several Detroit-area high schools in February sparked a lawsuit by three students who say they were searched without justification.

The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), targets the Detroit Schools, police and school security officers at Mumford High School, where the search took place. According to the Detroit News, the ACLU is seeking damages for the plaintiffs and a ban on future searches.

ALCU attorneys contend students who arrived for school that day were subjected to police and security searches of their bodies and belongings.

According to Michigan ACLU executive director Kary Moss, the searches took place without probable cause or suspected criminal activity, a violation of the Fourth Amendment. A spokesperson from the Detroit Public Schools declined comment.

Detroit Free Press, "ACLU files lawsuit against Detroit schools, police over mass search at high schools," June 10, 2004


TALAHASSEE, Fla. — A study released in June examined high school exit exams in six states and found that the tests do not focus on the necessary skills employers look for and rely on material that is not "overly demanding."

The study, published by Washington-based Achieve Inc., found that the tests lacked the difficulty generally recognized in high school material and were too acute in scope. The math portions of the tests, for example, included material taught at the eighth-grade level, and more than half the reading portions tested students on basic comprehension. The study said that passing scores on the tests reflect only "modest expectations" and measure "only a fraction" of the knowledge necessary for employment and higher education.

"The material on the exams states are using as a requirement for high school graduation is considered middle school content in most other countries," according to the study, which compared the six tests to standards set by the ACT testing company and 41 other countries. Nearly half of states in the United States administer a high school exit exam.

CNN, "Study: High school exit tests flimsy," June 10, 2004
http://www.cnn.com/2004/EDUCATION/06/10/graduation.tests.ap/ index.html

Achieve, Inc. "Do Graduation Tests Measure Up?: A Closer Look at State High School Exit Exams," June 2004
http://www.achieve.org/achieve.nsf/ StandardForm3?openform& parentunid=7CB3019548DAE51B85256EAE007461ED

Michigan Education Report, "Markets, not MEAP, best way to measure school quality," Spring 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "POLICY BRIEF: Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" May 2002


CLEVELAND, Ohio — A $100 million deficit in the Cleveland school district may force nearly 1,500 layoffs and rounds of deep funding cuts for schools and district programs.

A 1996 tax increase failed to raise enough revenue for the district to prevent the deficit, which experts say was caused by a number of factors, including ambitious and costly projects during the economic boom in the late 1990s.

Critics of public school alternatives offered by the city, such as vouchers and charter schools, say those programs drained resources from the Cleveland school district because they made it easier for students to leave the poorly performing schools. According to district statistics, 99 percent of its students are classified as poor.

Although the Cleveland district no longer receives per-pupil funds to teach the children who left, the district is relieved of the expense of educating them.

Since the 1996 tax hike, academic achievement in the district has risen enough to raise the district's status from an "academic emergency" to an "academic watch" in 2002-03. But that improvement was not enough to earn the district adequate yearly progress, which is required by federal law of all districts and schools nationwide.

CNN, "District imperiled by $100 million deficit," June 6, 2004
http://www.cnn.com/2004/EDUCATION/06/04/cleveland.schools.ap/ index.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The organization overseeing a new federally funded voucher program in the nation's capital reports that demand for the program has exceeded its capacity.

The Washington Scholarship Fund announced last week it received over 2,600 applications from parents wishing to send their children to non-public schools in the District of Columbia. Over 1,700 of those applicants are eligible to receive the scholarship according to family income and residence, and most of the 1,264 available slots will be chosen from the applicant pool by lottery.

Congress approved the $14 million program to "to expand the number of children exercising school choice" in Washington, said Washington Scholarship Fund president and CEO Sally Sachar. Vouchers are one of several types of programs designed to expand school choice. Others include tuition tax credits and charter schools.

Fund officials will test the admitted students later this month to determine what grade they will enter when school resumes this fall.

In a Washington Post story that characterized the demand for vouchers as low, D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty said the apparent level of demand shows that "vouchers are not needed."

Those who support parents' freedom to choose their children's schools responded by saying demand for school choice only grows as parents become aware of their options and obstacles like anti-choice litigation are overcome.

USA Today, "Huge demand for school vouchers in capital city," June 11, 2004

Washington Post, "D.C. School Vouchers Outnumber Applicants," June 11, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Forging Consensus," April 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Education Reform, School Choice, and Tax Credits," Spring 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Friedman Says Vouchers and Tax Credits Useful Route to Greater School Choice," March 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling: Restoring Parental Control of Education," January 2001


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — An official at the Florida Department of Education alleges that over 100 public schools in that state transferred poorly performing students to other schools just weeks before Florida's standardized test was administered.

Jim Warford, chancellor of K-12 education with the Department, said that an abnormal number of students were transferred in the 19 days leading up to the test, mostly in Polk County. About 70 percent of those students had previously performed poorly on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), making the transfers highly suspect of tampering, said Warford. "Everything about the data from Polk raises our suspicions," he said.

Officials with the state are questioning whether the transfers were performed intentionally to keep lower-scoring students from bringing down school averages on the FCAT test. Transfer irregularities were found in 30 of the state's 67 districts, according to the state.

FCAT rules state that test scores for transferred students do not count towards their original school or their new school.

Associated Press, "Official: Schools Transferred Students Before FCAT Test," June 12, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "POLICY BRIEF: Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" May 2002


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a lawsuit over the alleged religious intent of a phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance due to a technicality.

Five justices decided to dismiss the case because the plaintiff has no legal standing to bring the suit. Michael Newdow, the father of a California girl, is embroiled in a legal battle over custody of his daughter and therefore cannot file suit on behalf of her, said the justices.

At hand is a June 2002 decision of a suit filed by Newdow with 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals that claimed the phrase "One nation, under God" in the Pledge constitutes an abridgement of religious freedom for students required to recite the pledge in public schools. The ban was stayed until an appeal reached the Supreme Court.

CNN, "Court dismisses Pledge case," June 14, 2004

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report ( http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy ( http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at med@educationreport.org.

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