Contents of this issue:
  • Judge strikes down Texas' school-funding system

  • Bay City schools to require MEAP testing for all students

  • United States slipping in worldwide education ranking

  • Study: College affordability grades fall in Michigan, nation

  • Home-schooling popular option in Upper Peninsula

  • Florida Appeals Court decides to reconsider school-choice case

DALLAS — A Texas judge last week found the state's school-finance system to be unconstitutional, which may force legislators to revamp the way schools receive state and local money.

In the ruling, Judge John Dietz concluded that the current system forces some districts to tax local property at unacceptably high rates.

Even at maximum tax rates, poorer districts are still $1,000 behind wealthier districts in per-pupil funding. "The key to changing our future is to close the gap in academic achievement between the haves and have-nots," said Dietz, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, who defended the state in the case, said he would appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court. "The current system for providing education for the state of Texas fully satisfies all the standards required by the constitution," he said. That system was implemented in 1993 after a similar case forced the state to revise its school-funding system.

Dallas Morning News, "Judge finds Texas school finance system unconstitutional," Sept. 15, 2004
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/ 091604dntexschoolfinance.cd36c.html

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" August 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "'Proposal A,' 10 Years Later," February 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Finance Reform Lessons from Michigan," October 12, 2001

BAY CITY, Mich. — The Bay City Board of Education decided last week to require all students to take the standardized Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests. The requirement will help the district comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires 95 percent of all students to take a statewide proficiency test, such as the MEAP exam.

The board voted 5-1 on the requirement. Board trustee Don Gibson voted against the measure, saying that standardized tests are not the best way to measure students' intelligence. "Teachers know more about a student's ability than the tests do," said Gibson, according to the Bay City Times.

But Board Trustee Barbara Stamiris said that the new requirement would be beneficial for the district and its students. "Taking the test will allow us to pass some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind, and it will give us a snapshot at how our school district is doing," she said.

This January, the board will decide whether to make a passing grade on the MEAP test a graduation requirement for the district's high school students.

Bay City Times, "Bay City Public Schools to test more students on MEAP," Sept. 15, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/bctimes/index.ssf?/base/news-4/ 1095261364265120.xml

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

DETROIT — An annual study that compares the education level of 30 countries worldwide found that the United States ranks 10th in the percentage of adults age 25 to 34 who have completed high school.

The 450-page study, published by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, compares a number of statistics for industrialized nations, including high school and college completion rates.

Though the United States ranks first in the percentage of adults age 35 to 44 who have completed high school, the lower ranking of its younger population shows a negative trend in the number of educated citizens in America. "They're catching up with you in the proportion that finish school (and) the proportion that go to college," said OECD Director Barry McGaw, according to The Detroit News. In addition, the United States, at $10,871 per student, spends more per pupil in all levels of education than any other country in the world.

The United States ranks second only to Canada in the total percentage of adults with a college degree and second only to Norway in the percentage of adults age 25 to 34 who have earned a college degree. But other countries are closing that gap, which means that America could slip in the next several years, said the study. "If we are less competitive educationally, we will soon become less competitive economically," Education Secretary Rod Paige said. "That's just a cruel fact."

Detroit News, "Report: U.S. slips in education ratings," Sept. 14, 2004

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, "Education at a Glance 2004," September 2004
http://www.oecd.org/document/7/ 0,2340,en_2649_201185_33712135_1_1_1_1,00.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Will More Money Improve Student Performance?" June 1998

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "More Spending Not the Solution to School Woes," December 1993

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

DETROIT — A biennial study of college costs by an independent nonprofit organization has given failing grades to Michigan and to the nation for overall college affordability, according to the Detroit Free Press.

In 2002, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education assigned the United States an affordability grade of D, now lowered to an F. Michigan earned a grade of D-minus two years ago, but also dropped to an F this year. The grades included measures of overall cost and of average family income, among other assessments.

But skeptics of the findings say that the study contradicts many current indicators that show that although college costs may be rising, the total amount of scholarship and aid awards has been increasing to keep up with the amplified costs.

A Detroit News commentary by George C. Leef responded to the failing grade by saying that one reason college costs have been on the rise is the increase in government subsidies to institutions, which has artificially raised the cost of attendance. Recently, Michigan lowered its subsidies to public universities, which, Leef argued, is sound policy, because it makes tuition better reflect the true cost of educating each student.

Detroit Free Press, "U.S. colleges get F in affordability," Sept. 15, 2004

Detroit News, "Michigan fails test for college cost," Sept. 15, 2004

Detroit News, "State follows right path on college affordability," Sept. 19, 2004

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

MARQUETTE, Mich. — Support groups for home-schooling families in the Upper Peninsula say the option is becoming more popular than ever, thanks to increased visibility and popular acceptance of the practice.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that 1.1 million children in the United States are home-schooled, up nearly 29 percent since 1999. Lonnie Janofski, who runs a home-schooling support group called the Upper Michigan Christian Home Education Group, said home- schooling has been on the rise in the Upper Peninsula, mirroring the large national increase in home-schooled children. "We have about 200 families on our mailing list, which started out much smaller than that," Janofski told The Mining Journal. "It [has] been a growing movement."

Many parents that home-school their children choose to do so for moral or religious reasons; 31 percent say they are concerned about the safety of their children in public schools, according to the NCES.

Colleges and universities around Michigan are beginning to actively recruit home-schoolers. "We have lots of colleges contacting us. We get a lot of literature," said Janofski. "They heavily recruit home-schooled students because they usually test in the upper levels of testing brackets."

The Mining Journal, "Homeschooling option is popular locally," Sept. 19, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Home Schoolers Make Case for School Choice," May 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Home schooling works, study finds," Aug. 15, 1999

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm, reported last week that the full 1st District Court of Appeals in Florida will reconsider last month's decision to strike down that state's Opportunity Scholarships program.

The Opportunity Scholarships were originally instituted by the state Department of Education to allow students with limited economic means to attend the public or private school of their choice. But a legal challenge to that program led two members of a three-member panel of the court of appeals to decide against the program, saying it violated Florida's Blaine Amendment, which prohibits direct state funding to religious institutions, such as parochial schools.

But the state government requested a full Court of Appeals panel to reconsider the case because the implications of last month's decision reach a wide range of state programs that allow citizens to choose religious institutions for child care and college scholarships. "This case has tremendous implications not only for the hundreds of students for whom Opportunity Scholarships are the last hope for a good education, but also for the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who benefit from a wide array of state aid programs in which people have always been allowed to select religious options," said IJ Senior Attorney Clark Neily.

Institute for Justice, "Full Florida Court of Appeal Will Reconsider School Choice Case," Sept. 17, 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

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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