Contents of this issue:
  • School districts seek funding adequacy study

  • Editorial: Educators must address boys' learning challenges

  • New laws place intermediate school districts under greater scrutiny

  • State officials hope to relieve $113 million education shortfall

  • State officials make no commitments in Detroit financial crisis

  • Court rules in favor of colleges in military funding issue

BRIMLEY, Mich. — The Bay Mills News reported that more than 110 districts statewide have voted their support for a study of the funding needs of Michigan schools. Many of the districts hope the study will show that the current level of state government education funding is inadequate, according to the News.

The resolution for a study was originally proposed by the Michigan Association of School Administrators. The study would review the costs of a variety of items, including staff, benefits, technology, transportation and curriculum.

"We've been promised a study in the past, and then it hasn't gone anywhere," Brimley Superintendent Alan Kantola told the News. The most recent funding adequacy study was performed in 1968.

Financial problems are occurring in many districts. "The cost of operating a school just keeps going up," Kantola told the News. "Natural gas is through the roof. Money coming from the state is not covering our expenses. Salary and fringes are about 70 percent of our budget."

Bay Mills News, "Schools seek study to prove state funding insufficient," Dec. 2, 2004

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding, Proposal A, and Property Taxes," November 2001

Michigan Education Report, "Proposal A provided more money, but better management needed," Fall 2001

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report from the U.S. Department of Education indicates that girls have overtaken boys in academic achievement and that many boys are struggling in school, an editorial in USA Today observed last week. The editorial concluded that more research is needed into boys' and girls' learning differences, with teachers receiving more training in how to address the disparities.

Male students are lagging nationwide, in both wealthy districts and inner city schools, and the same pattern is being observed in other industrialized countries. The editorial argued that the trend reflects societal shifts that have favored girls, including an emphasis on verbal skills, which, according to the editorial, come more naturally to girls. The lack of achievement by male students will cause problems in the future, according to USA Today, because, "If boys can't get to the good-jobs starting line, which these days is a bachelor's degree, they won't get a chance to use their natural competitive skills in the marketplace."

The editorial suggested teacher training reforms, citing a study that found that 99 percent of teacher colleges do not offer a course on the differences between the ways boys and girls learn. The problem "surely won't be fixed until educators first come to see that it exists," USA Today opined.

USA Today, "Pay closer attention: Boys are struggling academically," Dec. 3, 2004 20041203/cm_usatoday/paycloserattentionboysarestrugglingacademically

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "With Clear Eyes, Sincere Hearts and Open Minds," July 2002

Flint, Mich. — The Flint Journal reported that Gov. Jennifer Granholm last week signed into law a package of bills placing intermediate school districts under greater financial scrutiny in the wake of several alleged intermediate district financial scandals.

State Rep. Ruth Johnson, a sponsor of some of the legislation, said the new laws will make ISDs more accountable in their use of taxpayer money. Johnson also headed a panel that investigated an alleged financial scandal in the Oakland County ISD. The new laws are "a huge victory for kids and taxpayers," Johnson told the Journal.

The Journal's 2003 investigation into the Genesee ISD found that ISD board officials and ISD Superintendent Thomas Svitkovitch together spent $263,000 in five years on travel-related expenses, including purchases of alcohol and in-room movies, some of which were later repaid by district officials. Svitkovitch said the district's board has apologized for the expenditures, and he told the Journal that he thinks the new laws will cost taxpayers more money. "This is going to assure more money is spent on auditors, accountants and webmasters and not necessarily more money on students and programs," he said.

Among other stipulations, the new laws require districts to report on their Web sites such items as contracts of over $100,000, individual travel expenses of more than $3,000, and general budget information, including salaries and benefits for employees in the top 3 percent of the district's payroll.

Flint Journal, "ISDs under microscope," Nov. 30, 2004, 2004 House Bills 5921, 5850, 5839, 5627, 5475

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

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Less Government, Not More, Is Key to Academic Achievement and Accountability," Oct. 3, 2001

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — State government economists reported last Friday that they anticipate a $113 million shortfall in the state's school aid fund for this fiscal year, according to the Ann Arbor News. State tax receipts have fallen below budget forecasts made last spring, and the state's overall budget deficit is projected at $370 million.

The announcement was made at a state budget conference that typically would be held in January, but was moved up to December because of the expected shortfall. According to the News, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state lawmakers say they will be able to avoid cuts in the minimum per-pupil foundation grants provided to schools (currently $6,700). Local school officials, the News reported, were relieved that the revenue deficit might not lead to school funding reductions.

But Milan Schools Superintendent Dennis McComb told the News that the money may come from next year's school monies, consuming any increased tax receipts next year. McComb added, "There is a structural problem in (state funding) that needs to be addressed in some fashion."

Ann Arbor News, "State officials hope to avoid education fund cuts," Dec. 4, 2004

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

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

DETROIT — The Detroit Free Press reported that a meeting last week between Detroit Public Schools CEO Kenneth Burnley, state legislators and Lt. Gov. John Cherry ended by postponing a decision, pending the district's submission of a financial audit to the state, on whether to recommend state assistance to Detroit. An earlier proposal by State Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema to impose a state emergency financial director in the district has apparently been set aside.

The Free Press reported that a high-level state official said Granholm administration officials were "very disappointed" in Burnley for not acting faster to address the district's financial crisis, which has snowballed into a $200 million deficit. Burnley has outlined a plan to sell bonds to cover the deficit, but this would require legislative approval, and Ari Adler, spokesman for State Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, said that the plan would not be acceptable.

"I think we've made it pretty clear that Dr. Burnley's Plan A is not going to fly," Adler told the Free Press, referring to the deficit bonds. "It's time to start working on Plan B." But Burnley argued that the bond option might still pass muster with the Legislature, telling the Free Press, "It's not a done deal." He also said that the district would likely request a 90-day extension in filing its deficit-reduction plan.

About 150 people attended a Detroit school board meeting that followed the Lansing meeting last Monday, and several residents expressed their disapproval of the district's response to the crisis. "Dr. Burnley needs to get out of Dodge — he needs to get out of Detroit," said Detroiter Marie Thornton.

Detroit Free Press, "No help yet for Detroit schools," Nov. 30, 2004

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's Budget Challenge," August 2004

DETROIT — In a 2-1 ruling last Monday, according to a Detroit Free Press report, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a law allowing the Defense Department to withhold funding from colleges and universities that bar on-campus military recruitment because of the military's ban on homosexuals.

The panel held that the decade-old federal law infringed on the schools' free-speech rights. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by a coalition of law schools. The Justice Department said it is reviewing whether it will appeal the decision.

Detroit Free Press, "Colleges win case on funds from military," Nov. 30, 2004

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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