Contents of this issue:
  • Lawmakers approve cap on tuition increases

  • Grand Rapids mulls year-round school

  • Private driving schools on the rise as schools cancel programs

  • Study: Michigan ranks 45th on 'teachability index'

  • Utica teachers reject contract over health insurance costs

  • Eastern Michigan University apologizes after audit

  • Plymouth-Canton tries to improve grade through MEAP participation

DETROIT, Mich. — State legislators last Thursday approved a bill that forces state-run universities and colleges to limit their tuition increases unless they wish to forgo some state funding.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm was expected to sign the bill, which passed unanimously in the House and received only one "nay" vote in the Senate. The bill provides $1.65 billion in state funding for the state's 15 public universities, but this funding is guaranteed to institutions only if tuition increases stay below the 2.8 percent cap imposed by a clause in the legislation.

The tuition increase cap is set at 2.8 percent because that is this year's rate of inflation, meaning there will be no effective change in the cost of tuition at public universities this year. "This was a very fair outcome," said Michigan State University President Peter McPherson, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, "Tuition increases can't exceed 2.8%," Sept. 10, 2004

MichiganVotes.org, 2004 Senate Bill 1067

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private Prepaid Tuition Programs Can Help Make College Affordable," September 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Competition among Professors Would Help Parents Afford College," August 1999

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids school district officials are publicly investigating options for opening several year-round schools by next year, according to the Grand Rapids Press.

The year-round schools would have the same amount of instruction time — 182 days — as other schools, but would have a shorter summer vacation and dispersed breaks throughout the rest of the year. Superintendent Bert Bleke said that the current summer vacation schedule degrades what students learned the year before, making a year-round schedule appealing. "I think it works," said Bleke. "And I think if it's good for one school, it's good for all of them."

The Press reports that nationwide, there are year-round schedules at 3,100 schools, serving a total of 2.2 million students. The current schedule is based on a time when children would spend the summers helping on the family farm, which is anachronistic, said Debbie McFalone, the district's executive director of curriculum and elementary instruction. "The world has changed so tremendously that there is an entirely different state of affairs that our children have to cope with," she observed, "and we have to look at our system to see if it is set up to meet the needs of the modern student."

Administrators say they are looking into whether the year-round option would be cost-effective and feasible for schools that do not have air conditioning for the summer months.

Grand Rapids Press, "GR eyes concept of year-round schools," Sept. 8, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/grpress/index.ssf?/base/news-16/ 1094655271101690.xml

Michigan Education Report, "Public Schools Innovate as Charters Get Mixed Marks," Spring 1999

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

JACKSON, Mich. — Private driver education schools are booming, taking over demand that used to be the dominion of the state's public schools. Direct state funding for school driving programs was canceled last year, causing many schools to shut down their programs altogether.

Since 1997, schools have been allowed to charge fees for driver education, but many schools find it more economical to shut down their programs. "For the schools, it's convenient for them to bow out and let a third party come in and offer driver's education," said Janet Gamet, a co-owner of ABC Testing and Training, a driver education school. Gamet told the Jackson Citizen Patriot that enrollment at her school increased 20 to 25 percent last year. Dennis Whittington, owner of Horton-based E-Z Way Driver Training Inc., said his company purchased 12 more cars and hired 20 more teachers to meet increased demand this year, for a total of 50 teachers and 27 cars. E-Z Way serves 3,000 to 4,000 customers in several southern Michigan counties. "The public was already paying, through their taxes, for the service," Whittington said. "They've really not lost anything. They've actually gained a competitive market."

Jackson Citizen Patriot, "Driving schools boom as public schools phase out driver's training," Sept. 7, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/jacitpat/index.ssf?/base/news-10/ 109457310061520.xml

Lansing State Journal, "Many schools phasing out driver's education classes," Sept. 13, 2004
http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/ 20040913/NEWS01/409130341/1002

Michigan Privatization Report, "State Adopts Another Mackinac Center Idea," Spring 2004

Michigan Privatization Report, "On the Road to Privatization," Spring 1998

Michigan Privatization Report, "School Budget Crunch Puts Privatization on the Table," Summer 1999

DENVER, Colo. — A study ranking states on how effective they are at overcoming social problems in teaching students ranked Michigan 45th on its Adjusted School Efficiency Index.

The study, published by the New York-based Manhattan Institute, compared empirical data on students' "teachability" nationwide. Taking into account social problems like poverty and teen pregnancy, authors Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster calculated each state's efficiency in overcoming such problems and bringing out the potential of students affected by them. Michigan ranked near the bottom: 45th in the country on a scale that was adjusted for the cost of living.

The study also found that students today are generally easier to teach than students 30 years ago. "Overall, student disadvantages that pose challenges to learning have declined 8.7 percent since 1970," said the authors. "Children's physical health and economic security have substantially improved, and preschool enrollment has grown dramatically."

According to the results, said the authors, the ability to teach a student is not a factor of the social and economic backgrounds of the students, but the efficacy of each state's school system: "This study indicates that teachability cannot serve as an excuse for the education system's failure to perform, and it provides evidence that student disadvantages are not destiny: Some schools do much better than others at educating students with low levels of teachability."

Rocky Mountain News, "Schools rank No. 2 at tackling barriers," Sept. 8, 2004
http://rockymountainnews.com/drmn/education/article/ 0,1299,DRMN_957_3167188,00.html

Manhattan Institute, "The Teachability Index: Can Disadvantaged Students Learn?" September 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Is Michigan Public Education Improving?" November 2001

Michigan Education Report, "Schools and Businesses Share Techniques for Success," Winter 1999

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," August 2000

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

DETROIT, Mich. — Teachers in the Detroit-area Utica Community School District rejected a new contract amid a dispute over the rising cost of health care for the district.

With more than 29,000 students, Utica is the second-largest district in Michigan, behind only the Detroit Public Schools. Currently, the Utica district pays all health insurance premiums for its teachers. But an increase in premiums has hindered the district's ability to pay all of the premiums for all teachers. "We've experienced a 17 percent increase in our health care costs," said Hildy Corbett, a spokeswoman for the district. "We've got budget problems, and we're trying to contain those costs."

The district offers two insurance plans through the Michigan Education Special Services Association, an organization formed by the Michigan Education Association. Under the proposed new contract, teachers would have been able to choose MESSA's "Preferred Provider Option" and still have it fully paid for by the district, but teachers choosing MESSA's Super Care I program would have had to pay the difference in cost between Super Care I and the PPO, which is about $93 per month.

Jim Matrille, president of the local Utica Education Association, said teachers would continue to work without a contract. Teacher strikes are illegal under state law.

Detroit News, "Utica teachers reject contract," Sept. 12, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "MESSA: Keeping school districts from saving money on health care," Summer 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MEA Abuses Public School Health Care Funds," Aug. 7, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," November 1993

Michigan Privatization Report, "Ensuring Insurance Competition," September 1998

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A state audit this summer of the new president's house at Eastern Michigan University forced the institution to apologize in a statement submitted last Friday.

In its statement, which was filed a day before the state deadline to respond to the audit, the university said it will try harder in the future to fully inform the public of its expenses. "The university belongs to the people, and they deserve for there not to be mistakes," said EMU Interim President Craig Willis. "But mistakes happen in the course of human events, and we regret that. We will do better."

Initially after the audit, Philip Incarnati, chairman of the EMU Board of Regents, insisted that the project cost only $3.58 million — "within the defined perimeter," according to the Ann Arbor News. But the audit had found that the university spent $5.3 million on the home's construction, plus $700,000 related to the project.

State officials hope the university will put the auditor general's recommendations into effect. "I think
the statement] acknowledges that the university could have done some things in a different manner," state Rep. Ruth Ann Jamnick told the News.

Ann Arbor News, "EMU apologizes after audit," Sept. 11, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/aanews/index.ssf?/base/news-10/ 109489765033190.xml

Eastern Michigan University, "EMU Audit Response Fact Sheet," Sept. 10, 2004

Eastern Michigan University, "EMU Issues Formal Audit Response," Sept. 10, 2004

DETROIT, Mich. — Administrators at the Plymouth-Canton Community School District are looking for ways to get more students to take the standardized Michigan Educational Assessment Program test, in order to meet federal standards and increase the district's achievement grade.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires 95 percent of 11th-grade students to take a standardized test to measure student achievement, but only 90 percent of students in the Plymouth-Canton district took the test last year. This leads to a lower overall score for the school when rated by state and federal governments, even though students score well on the test. "There is a huge amount of importance placed on that 95 percent," said Lisa Rentz, communication manager for the Lansing-based Michigan Association of School Administrators.

Plymouth-Canton administrators say they are looking for ways to increase student participation in the test, including making it a requirement for graduation. "When you're trying to increase it from say 50 percent to 90, that is almost easier," said Deborah Parizek, an assistant principal at Plymouth High. "But going from that 94 to 96 is tough because you feel you are sort of down to the last few, who may have strong reasons for why they don't take the test."

Detroit News, "More MEAP test takers are sought," Sept. 12, 2004

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

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

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

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

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