Contents of this issue:
  • Education Access Grants proposed in Minnesota

  • Flanagan says survey shows need for state-mandated curriculum

  • Massachusetts looking at teacher merit pay

  • Data suggests 94 percent of teachers are highly qualified

  • State threatens action against MEAP contractor

  • Hesperia school board declares impasse over health insurance

  • Teachers union upset school district published bargaining positions

Minneapolis — The Minnesota Legislature is considering a program that will allow for greater school choice in Minneapolis and St. Paul, while simultaneously boosting revenues for the Minneapolis Public School District, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis. The program, known as Education Access Grants, would be targeted at the Twin Cities' poorest students — those who fall at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level, NCPA reported. Access Grants would serve the dual function of allowing those students the opportunity to attend private school and creating a revenue surplus for MPSD. Ericca Maas of the Friedman Foundation, whose organization was the source of NCPA's report, said Access Grants would be financially advantageous to all parties.

NCPA reported that Education Access Grants would be available to students whose families earn less than $48,375 a year. Access Grants would cost the state less per student than if each student continued at public school, but for six years MPSD would still receive a large portion of the state per-pupil aid for those who opt for private school. Thus, reported NCPA, low-income students would get a state grant to attend a private institution without depriving the local public school district of funding that would normally accompany the student. According to NCPA, the stability measures built into the Access Grant program would result in up to $14.2 million in additional revenue.

National Center for Policy Analysis, "Re-educating Minnesota," Oct. 4, 2005
http://www.ncpa.org/newdpd/dpdarticle.php ?article_id=2333&PHPSESSID=d47d42d36c25a5b0649150eaeb275f07

Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, "A Fiscal Analysis of Proposed Education Access Grants in Minneapolis," July 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Forging Consensus," Apr. 30, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling," Jan. 29, 2001

Michigan Education Report, "Private scholarships expand opportunities for low-income families," Sept. 13, 2000

Lansing, Mich. — Results from a Michigan Department of Education survey have officials calling for a state-mandated high school curriculum, Michigan Information & Research Services reported. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan, presenting the results of the survey at a state Board of Education meeting recently, said it proved Michigan needs to take a closer look at how its high schools are preparing graduates for post-secondary education and the working world.

Currently, the state allows local school districts to determine their own core curriculum, according to MIRS. About 45 percent of all Michigan school districts with high schools responded to the MDE survey. The results found Michigan high schools ordinarily require students to take four years of English, three years of math, three years of social studies and two years of science, MIRS reported. About 40 percent do not require any art classes and 62 percent do not have a foreign language requirement. Also, MIRS reported that half of the schools surveyed do not require a family/consumer science course.

According to MIRS, state Board of Education President Kathleen Straus said the survey was eye opening.

"I thought we were doing a lot better than this, and it's going to startle a lot of other people when this information gets out to the public," she said.

In her weekly radio address on Sept. 16, Gov. Jennifer Granholm called for statewide curriculum standards, according to MIRS. Flanagan will most likely make specific curriculum recommendations at the Nov. 15 Board of Education meeting, MIRS reported.

Michigan Information & Research Service, "MDE Survey Shows Specific Curriculum Lacking," Oct. 5, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "State Superintendent Flanagan wants rigorous graduation standards," Sept. 20, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "State board considers statewide graduation requirements," Aug. 2, 2005

Boston — Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney proposed an education plan to provide laptops for students, recruit new science and math teachers and include teacher performance pay that could add bonuses of $5,000 or more to deserving teachers' annual salaries, The New York Times reported.

Romney called for $46 million in new spending initiatives to fund the plan for fiscal 2006 and up to $143 million for 2007. According to The Times, Massachusetts is part of a nationwide trend where states are moving away from setting teachers' salaries on years of service. The Times reported that Arizona, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico and North Carolina currently have programs that reward teachers for classroom performance. In addition, a ballot measure in Colorado that would raise property taxes to allow teachers to qualify for earned benefits is expected to pass next month. The Times also pointed out that the Bush administration is considering a national teacher merit pay system.

There is resistance to the plan from some state lawmakers and union leaders in Massachusetts, who criticize it as divisive and politically motivated, according to The Times. They say it limits the number of teachers who can earn the extra money to those teaching Advanced Placement courses or to those in the top third in classroom improvement.

"It's more of a political statement," state Sen. Robert R. Antonioni, a Democrat, told The Times. "It plays to those who feel the teaching profession is inadequate by trying to walk around the rank and file."

Romney, a Republican, countered such claims.

"I'm looking for change, and I'll spend money for change on the potential that it'll make a difference," he told The Times. "If something doesn't work, we'll try something else. But you can't keep spending more money the same way and expect different results. That's the definition of crazy."

Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation, a private organization that helped develop the plan, told The Times he knows it will be hard for the Romney administration to advance its plan and unify key constituencies in the face of union pressure.

"His proposals are short on substance, long on politics," Massachusetts Teachers Association President Catherine A. Boudreau told The Times. She called merit pay, "inequitable, divisive and ineffective."

Romney indicated the criticism would not deter him.

"It takes time. You've got to sell it. It's hard to get the public to support everything, but this is a multiyear effort," he said, according to The Times. "You know, I would just love it if you could just throw out all the special interests from education."

The New York Times, "Teacher Merit Pay Tied to Education Gains," Oct. 4, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Should teachers be paid based on merit? YES," Aug. 18, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Should teachers be paid based on merit? NO," Aug. 18, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education Back to the Table," Aug. 1, 1998

Lansing, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Education released new data last week that shows as many as 94 percent of teachers in the state may be "highly qualified" under the definition in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, The Detroit News reported.

NCLB requires that by June 2006, 100 percent of teachers in core classes including English, math, science, foreign language, government, economics, arts, history and geography be highly qualified, that is, either teaching in their college major or having proved their competency through state certification procedures. The data, released by MDE's Center for Educational Performance and Information, shows Michigan may be very close to reaching that goal.

The Michigan Education Association, however, doubts the number of highly qualified teachers is as high as the state says it is. The MEA told The News it has heard from many members who were initially told by schools they were highly qualified, only to find out later they did not actually fit that definition.

"It would be a dream come true if 94 percent are highly qualified at this time," MEA spokeswoman Margaret Trimer-Hartley told The News. "We are very nervous that we will fall short of the goal by 2006 ... because of confusion and misinformation."

The News reported that school districts will be unable to assign unqualified teachers to classrooms if they do not reach the highly qualified goal by the end of this school year, and that schools can face penalties for violating this rule. MDE Supervisor of Client Services Frank Ciloski said such penalties could come in the form of state control of district federal funding. But Ciloski added he believes the state can get close to the 100 percent deadline by June, The News reported.

The 94 percent mark is a two-percentage point increase from last year's measure, according to The News. MEA officials have warned their members not to rely on the word of school administrators when it comes to determining if they are highly qualified or not, The News reported. The union has put out its own information for its members on what it takes to be highly qualified.

The News reported that teachers who will be primarily affected by the NCLB standard are those who started before the state required certification tests in 1993. Teachers have the option of taking a certification test, going back to school or putting together a portfolio that proves they are highly qualified if they do not currently meet the NCLB standard.

The Detroit News, "Most teachers meet standards," Oct. 4, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Report: Mixed progress on implementing No Child Left Behind Act," July 21, 2004

Michigan Education Digest, "Federal standards relaxed for English testing," Feb. 24, 2004

Detroit — The Michigan Department of Education is threatening to invoke contract clauses that would penalize an Iowa company up to $10,000 a day for mistakes the Department says the company made in providing the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests, the Detroit Free Press reported.

According to the Free Press, with the three-week MEAP testing period starting last week, a number of schools complained they have received incomplete and inaccurate test materials. The MDE told the Free Press it sent a special MEAP administrator to Iowa to work through the problem with the state's contractor, Pearson Educational Measurement. The company has a three-year, $48.6-million agreement with the state to create, provide and score the tests, the Free Press reported.

At the time of the Free Press report, it was not known how many schools had been affected. Pearson said it was working on correcting the problem, but also released a statement accusing the state of supplying incorrect data, missing approval deadlines and underestimating the number of books it would need.

Detroit Free Press, "Contractor must fix MEAP problems, state says," Oct. 5, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "More students to take MEAP: Testing earlier in school year," Sept. 6, 2005

Hesperia, Mich. — The Muskegon Chronicle reported last week that the Hesperia school board declared an impasse in contract negotiations, mainly due to conflicts over health insurance benefits, and intends to require teachers to start paying 12 percent of their premiums. Teachers will also be charged for last year's health insurance under the school district's proposed remedy.

According to The Chronicle, Hesperia Education Association Director Bill Kuiper said teachers were "surprised and upset" at what he calls a "strong-arm tactic."

The Chronicle reported both sides had been in mediation, but the board felt discussions over health insurance were going nowhere. The union said there was no impasse. Legally, the school board is required to declare an impasse before it can impose contract language, The Chronicle said.

Hesperia teachers do not pay a share of their MESSA-Blue Cross premiums, The Chronicle reported, but do pay $5 or $10 co-pays on prescriptions under their current agreement. The school district plans to begin deducting the 12 percent of health insurance premiums from teachers' paychecks beginning Jan. 1, according to The Chronicle. Teachers will have the option of reducing the amount deducted if they start Oct. 28 instead of waiting until January.

Hesperia Interim Superintendent Jack Mansfield told The Chronicle the district budget is coming up short. The district cut $1 million from the budget this year, laid off seven teachers and other staff and has not bought a new school bus in three years, the newspaper reported.

"We are saying we want some cost containment," Mansfield told The Chronicle. "To expect the board to pay 100 percent of a plan they have selected is not within the realm of possibility for the board."

The Muskegon Chronicle, "School board orders teachers to pay some health costs," Oct. 5, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland district concerned about possible illegal teacher strike," Sept. 20, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland teachers prepare for strike," Sept. 27, 2005

Mt. Pleasant, Mich. — The Shepherd Public School district irritated the local teachers union when it printed and mailed a brochure detailing the bargaining positions of both sides days before a scheduled mediated bargaining session, the Morning Sun reported.

Shepherd Education Association President Dee Brock called the brochure "adversarial," and said the district "intensified an already negative atmosphere at the school," according to the Morning Sun.

The newspaper reported the brochure is eight newsprint pages and appears to have been mass mailed to Shepherd residents, as well as distributed to the teachers. The document outlines the teachers' plan to ask for, among other things, higher longevity payments and a second-year pay increase of 1.95 percent. The Morning Sun reported teachers are offering to pay $80.33 per month to keep their health plan or will switch health insurance if the district absorbs the whole cost.

The district is offering to either institute no pay increase and require teachers to pay $134.48 a month to keep MESSA insurance, or offer the teachers a 2.95 percent pay raise if they agree to switch to less expensive Blue Cross-Blue Shield coverage, the Morning Sun reported. The brochure also highlights rising health care, retirement and energy costs. SPS expects to face an enrollment decline this year.

According to the Morning Sun, Brock was surprised the district would publicly release the bargaining positions in a brochure.

"The overwhelming response of the teachers is that the professional reputation of every Shepherd teacher was dishonored by this politically driven smear campaign, which is going to get in the way of the settlement," she told the Morning Sun.

Shepherd teachers have been without a contract since June 2004, the Morning Sun reported. A mediation session was scheduled for last Monday.

Morning Sun, "Brochure rankles teachers union," Sept. 30, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education Back to the Table," Aug. 1, 1998

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 140,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Ted O'Neil at [med@educationreport.org].

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