Contents of this issue:
  • NEA makes membership a higher priority

  • Cox rules community service not required for Merit Awards

  • Wise management at Muskegon County charter

  • Holland education board seeks employee health-care bids

  • 11,000 converge in Lansing for more education funding

The National Education Association has stepped up efforts aimed at recruiting new members to its 2.8-million member organization. In 2004, membership figures grew by just over 1 percent, down from over 3 percent in 2001. According to a report by Education Week, union officials are saying that active membership has grown by about 38,000 since last year. Almost 20,000 of those new members are teachers.

Education Week reported that recruitment efforts have been driven by "the current political climate, in which many of the NEA's allies have lost power and its enemies have seized on the opportunity to strike deeper at the union's clout."

NEA efforts are focusing on grassroots movements and capitalizing on situations in specific states, districts, and schools. Education Week quotes Tim Dedman, who was sent to Miami as an NEA organizational specialist: "We changed our entire focus from a centralized service organization to ... one with a major focus on organizing at the building site around issues pertinent to that building. ... If we teach (union) members the skills, we believe not only is that building stronger, we believe the union becomes stronger."

Education Week, "NEA Grows More Strategic About Membership," June 22, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Michigan Education Association: Is Michigan's Largest School Employee Union Helping or Hurting Education?"

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teacher, Inc.: A Private-Practice Option for Educators," August 1995

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Public School Teachers Launch a Non-Union Revolution," March 4, 2002

Attorney General Mike Cox ruled that the $2,500-dollar Michigan Merit Award cannot be conditional upon the completion of 40 hours of community service, The Detroit News reported. Cox concluded that the public board administering the grants overstepped, in the words of The News, "its authority in ordering public service without an actual change in the law."

The award, established by the Legislature in 1999, is given to high school graduates who achieve a certain score on the Michigan Education Assessment Program test. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proposed changing the scholarship so that the total award would be $4,000 and would also require community service. If her proposal were to be approved by the legislature, the community service component could take effect with the class of 2007, the Lansing State Journal reported.

The News quoted a student who took the MEAP this year to be eligible for an award next year. She said that service is "an opportunity for the student to give back to their community," although she acknowledged that "some students would say volunteering should be left to the people who want to volunteer."

The Detroit News, "MEAP Volunteer Rule Killed," June 22, 2005

Lansing State Journal, "Cox Tosses Merit Award Rule," June 22, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan? A Comparison of the MEAP, SAT-9, and ITBS," September 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Markets, Not MEAP, Best Way to Measure School Quality," May 2000

The Tri-Valley Academy of Arts and Academics in Muskegon County recently earned high marks for its expense management, according to The Muskegon Chronicle. "I'd like to extend congratulations to the board for being frugal," said Linda Comer, who is regional vice president for Leona Group, the management company for the K-8 charter school.

The Chronicle reported that the school had $3.29 million in revenue and only spent $3.15 million. Not only have school officials disciplined spending, but they have grown the savings fund that the state advises districts to maintain for emergencies or periods of tight cash flow. Comer said that the school "increased (its) fund balance by 13 percent (of (its) operating budget)." Last year the school added $140,549 to its $299,087 to bring the fund balance to $439,636, The Chronicle reported.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Charter School Builds Financial Cushion," June 23, 2005

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Stop Beating Up on Charter Schools," December 2, 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Chartering Change: Michigan's Public School Academies," November 1998

Holland Public Schools will seek competitive bids for employee health insurance, The Grand Rapids Press reported. In the words of The Holland Sentinel, the Holland Board of Education last week "declared itself the designated policyholder for employee healthcare, meaning it will arrange health insurance coverage for its employees, ... a role previously filled ... by the Michigan Education Special Services Association." MESSA is a subsidiary of the Michigan Education Association, Michigan's largest teachers union.

Though board leaders believe the district could save $550,000 to $750,000 a year, the decision has generated a mixed response. The Sentinel reported that state Sen. Wayne Kuipers, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, called the board a "good steward of taxpayer dollars." Justin King, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, told The Sentinel that he commended them "for their courage," and said they "are showing some real leadership." However, The Sentinel reported that Rosemary Carey, a communications official for the MEA, said the decision has made the MEA "very concerned." "This is something that should be decided on the bargaining table," she said.

Faced with rising health-care costs, other districts have negotiated settlements that require teachers to contribute to their health-care premiums, or choose "less comprehensive and cheaper plans offered throughout [MESSA]," The Grand Rapids Press reported. Though The Press suggested that Holland "may set a trend," it also noted that "no other district negotiating contracts has proposed the idea." James Cassis, assistant superintendent for Godfrey Lee Schools, told The Press, "I think we're waiting to see what happens. . . . We haven't done anything to formally consider this."

The Holland Sentinel, "District Takes on Rising Health Costs," June 25, 2005

The Grand Rapids Press, "Holland May Set Trend with Teacher Deal," June 25, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teachers Deserve Good Benefits; Schools Deserve to Know What They Cost," July 1998

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Why School Districts Can't Save on Health Care," January 2004

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

An estimated crowd of 11,000 people rallied in Lansing on June 21, calling for an increase in education funding. They demonstrated in support of Senate Bill 246 and House Bill 4582, which would "guarantee yearly state school aid increases of 5 percent or inflation, whichever is less," according to The Detroit News.

"We're here for the kids. It's tough to get them what they deserve because of the budget cuts," an eighth-grade teacher told The News. The News reported that the two bills the crowd was supporting are not favored by Republicans in the Legislature. The Republicans say they would like to make education spending a priority, but that the bills in question are too costly.

House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, told The News that "If we're going to give more to public education, it has to come from somewhere and I haven't heard a lot of solutions." The price tag given by the Senate Fiscal Agency for the first year alone is $1.53 billion. On the television program "Off the Record," reporter Tim Skubick said that although the bills' supporters would be willing to accept a less costly version, legislators would still have to find lots of tax revenue to foot the bill.

The Detroit News, "Thousands Rally Against Education Cuts," June 22, 2005

Lansing State Journal, "11,000 Rally for School Funding," June 22, 2005, "Off the Record," June 24, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Rally for the Classroom, Not the Budget Process," June 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Jen and the Art of Education," June 2005

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 Ryan Olson at

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