PLEASE NOTE: Michigan Education Digest will be published every other week beginning with this issue. We will resume our weekly publication schedule on Tuesday, August 23. -Ed.

Contents of this issue:
  • Michigan Supreme Court rules retiree benefits subject to change

  • MEAP scores fall in all subjects but reading

  • Editorial: Loss of new teachers a concern

  • Hoogendyk introduces 65-percent solution

  • Ohio governor institutes state-wide voucher program

Detroit - The Michigan Supreme Court ruled against six retired public school employees who contended that an increase in their health insurance deductibles and prescription drug copays was unconstitutional, the Detroit Free Press reported. The plaintiffs sued the Michigan Public School Employees' Retirement System for changing retiree deductibles and copays in 2000.

The majority in the 5-2 decision said that health care was not an "accrued financial benefit," which the Michigan Constitution forbids the state from decreasing. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Clifford Taylor ruled that health care is "non-monetary" and does not accrue with the number of years an employee works. Justice Michael Cavanagh dissented, arguing that, "A health care benefit is a benefit because it clearly costs the state money and has an economic value to the employee," the Free Press reported.

According to the Free Press, the state argued that each dollar spent on benefits for retirees is a dollar not spent on the education of students. If retiree benefits were not cut, they said, other areas would be. The Michigan Education Association supported the retirees.

Detroit Free Press, "School retirees lose health insurance case in state Supreme Court," June 29, 2005 http://www.freep.com/news/statewire/sw117721_20050628.htm

State of Michigan Court of Appeals, "Alberta Studier et al. v. Michigan Public School Employees' Retirement System," Feb. 3, 2005 http://courtofappeals.mijud.net/documents/OPINIONS/FINAL/COA/20040203_C243796_29_15O.243796.OPN.COA.PDF

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "4M: The Real Structural Problem," February 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How Much Is Enough?", May 2005

MEA Voice Today, "MEA members, retirees need to protest MPSERS plan to shift health care costs," June 1, 2004

Lansing, Mich. — The Michigan Education Assessment Program test scores for graduating seniors released on Friday improved over last year's results in reading, but not in other subjects, several papers reported over the weekend.

Results of the six-part assessment taken by high school juniors showed that 77.9 percent of students met or exceeded standards in reading, up from 76.2 percent last year. Other scores did not improve. For example, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards in science was down from 63.4 to 58, according to The Toledo Blade. Writing scores did not show as sharp a decline with 57.2 percent meeting or surpassing standards this year, compared to 57.8 last year.

Reactions to the scores varied. John Austin of the Michigan Board of Education told the Free Press that, "We've got a lot of work to do moving forward. There's an urgency in defining more rigorous high school standards." State Board President Kathleen Straus advised that "We need to continue addressing the academic challenges our high schools are facing."

Jon White, superintendent of Bedford Schools in Monroe County, expressed misgivings over the assessment itself. "What's confusing about high school test scores," he told The Blade, "is that kids can take these tests as sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and you don't get the information back until after these kids have graduated." Superintendent Craig Haugen of Whiteford Agricultural Schools told The Blade that the scores do not provide the level of detail that is available with tests given at the elementary and middle school levels, "so districts have a more challenging time trying to address their specific weaknesses to improve student achievement." The State Board of Education will meet in a special session on July 28 to talk about high school education.

The Toledo Blade, "Most test scores decline in Michigan," July 2, 2005

The Jackson Citizen Patriot, "Reading scores rise, others fall," July 2, 2005

Detroit Free Press, "MEAP scores drop in math, science, social studies, writing," July 1, 2005

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

Detroit — Almost half of new Michigan teachers quit within a few years of starting their jobs, The Detroit News editorialized. The situation is not unique to Michigan. According to the Alliance for Education, job turnover costs U.S. school districts $2.6 trillion each year. Estimates from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that a district spends about 30 percent of a lost teacher's salary to replace him or her.

The exodus of new teachers has another cost. Mike Reno, Rochester Community Schools Trustee, told The News that districts also lose "that sense of confidence that these seasoned teachers bring. Having a stable teaching work force helps assure parents."

The News editorial discussed some of the most common reasons for teacher attrition. Some mathematics and science teachers are lost to private firms that offer higher salaries. Lack of support is another problem for new teachers, although some districts have instituted effective mentoring support programs to address this issue. Richard Ingersoll, associate professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, commented that "The data is pretty clear: where you have more support, you keep more teachers." Family obligations also play a role in the loss of new teachers, though The News said that an estimated 25 percent of teachers who leave their teaching jobs return after raising a family.

The Detroit News, "Teacher exodus plagues schools," June 26, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Frivolous, Trendy Teacher Training in Michigan," May 2003

Lansing, Mich. — State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, R-Kalamazoo, has introduced legislation, now in the House Committee on Appropriations, that stipulates that 65 cents of every dollar appropriated for education be spent in the classroom, Booth Newspapers reported.

According to a study by First Class Education on the amount spent for classroom costs, Michigan ranks 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Michigan schools spend an average of 57.4 cents per dollar in the classroom. Nationally, schools spend an average of 61.5 cents per dollar appropriated to education for classroom costs.

Classroom expenditures may include teachers and benefits, books and supplies, teaching aides, clubs and groups, and even athletics. Booth Newspapers reported that the bill's backers believe that it is more effective to use money on classroom expenses than on administration and overhead costs. The idea is not as popular with Tom White, executive director of the Michigan School Business Officials and director of the K-16 Coalition. He told Booth Newspapers that, "It's dangerous to overemphasize a single statistic like this."

The Jackson Citizen Patriot, "Beyond the quick fix," June 29, 2005

Booth Newspapers, "Education bills look to earmark money, raise funding," June 16, 2005

Michiganvotes.org, "2005 House Bill 4975"

Time Magazine, "Teaching Schools How to Spend," June 20, 2005

Firstclasseducation.org, "Frequently Asked Questions"

Cincinnati — The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that up to 14,000 Ohio students in the most poorly performing public or charter schools will be able to use vouchers under a budget signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Bob Taft. The Ohio Department of Education must begin preparing the program by September, according to The Enquirer. Students would begin receiving scholarships in the 2006-2007 school year.

The state-wide voucher program is new in Ohio, although Cleveland has had a voucher program for 9 years. Under that program, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, vouchers of up to $3,000 are available to K-8 students. The new program is state-wide and will cover grades K-12. Vouchers of up to $4,250 will be available to eligible K-8 students, with as much as $5,000 offered to those in grades 9-12. Only students from schools that have been rated as being in "academic emergency" status for 3 years would qualify. That would include 34 schools in Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, and three in Butler County, but none in Warren or Clermont counties, if the program were to begin this year.

Jack Gilligan, a Cincinnati school board member and former Ohio governor, considers the program "thoughtless and irresponsible" because it "dishes out money all over the place" while "not doing anything to improve public schools." But many parents hold a different opinion. One parent told The Enquirer, "A lot of kids don't have the opportunities to go to a Catholic high school" because the cost is prohibitive, so "every little bit helps."

The Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), "Budget includes vouchers for up to 14,000 students," July 1, 2005

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Vouchers or Tuition Tax Credits: Which is the Better Choice for School Choice?", July 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 Ryan Olson at med@educationreport.org.

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