Contents of this issue:
  • State-mandated graduation requirements presented

  • Teachers union faces unfair labor practice charges

  • Editorial: School health insurance pool cuts costs

  • Supreme Court ruling puts burden on parents

  • Ann Arbor schools say state owes $4.8 million

  • Audit finds problems in Muskegon Public Schools

  • Teachers quit union

Lansing, Mich. - The number of credits required for high school graduation could increase to 16 under a plan presented to the state Board of Education last week, The Detroit News reported.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan's recommendation calls for four credits each of English and math, three credits each of science and social studies, and one credit each of physical education and fine arts, according to The News.

"This is our historic opportunity to do something," Flanagan told the board. "I hope what we end up with is a high school that reflects the 21st century rather than the romanticized high school of the 1950s."

Board President Kathleen Straus told The News the board will most likely approve the plan in December with few changes.

Specific courses, such as algebra I and II, geometry, biology, English literature, U.S. and world history, economics and government will make up the various credit requirements, The News reported. Some board members questioned why foreign language was not required. Currently, the only state-mandated graduation requirement is a civics class.

"As a civics-only state, we're being left in the global dust," Flanagan said. "In today's marketplace, you need an associate's degree just to work at the Cadillac plant down the street. The game has changed, it's a global game, and Michigan needs to change with it."

The state-mandated curriculum was put together in response to a Department of Education survey that found a wide variety of graduation requirements among public school districts. For example, only one-third of school districts responding require algebra I, while only 12 percent require algebra II. Fewer than half of Michigan's school districts responded to the survey.

David Plank, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, said the new requirements are a "good idea," but noted that when the state tried this before, it came up against the 1978 Headlee Amendment to the state Constitution, which says the state must pay for mandates, The News reported.

Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said that would not be a problem in this case.

"We're paying at least $6,700 per student and there's a minimum we should expect for that," he told The News. "What do schools think we're giving them money for in the first place?"

The Legislature will take up the issue once the board of education approves it, The News said. If signed into law, the mandated curriculum could begin for students who enter ninth grade for the 2006-2007 school year.

The Detroit News, "16 classes or forget a diploma," Nov. 13, 2005

The Detroit News, "State board likes school fixes," Nov. 16, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Flanagan Says Survey Shows Need for State-Mandated Curriculum," Oct. 11, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Algebra Required in Just One-Third of Michigan High Schools," Oct. 25, 2005

Holland, Mich. ? The Holland Education Association has been accused of unfair labor practices, according to the Holland Sentinel.

Holland Public Schools filed two more unfair labor charges against the teachers union, one of them stemming from a Nov. 9 proposal the HEA made regarding health insurance costs, the Sentinel reported. The plan offered to let teachers pay their own health care costs in exchange for higher pay. The matter now goes to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, the Sentinel reported.

"The proposal they submitted was substantially more costly to the district," attorney Marshall Grate told the Sentinel. "We call that regressive bargaining. They moved backward economically."

Grate, who filed the grievances with MERC on behalf of the district, said the union's proposal would have cost the district an additional $723,000 this year alone.

The second complaint is about a hiring freeze the HEA proposed. Barb Ruga, the district's labor attorney, told the Sentinel the union wanted a hiring freeze on staff unless replacements would be necessary under the No Child Left Behind Act.

"It would dramatically increase class size," Ruga said.

The school board filed an earlier unfair labor practice against the union over an Oct. 24 HEA press conference, according to the Sentinel. Holland schools said the press conference violated an agreement both sides had reached.

The HEA filed its own unfair labor charges against the school board in August, the Sentinel said. Those complaints were about a letter sent in August by the school board to teachers, explaining contract proposals, and the union's claim that it did not receive financial information about the district's health insurance proposal.

Holland Sentinel, "District files unfair labor practice charges against union," Nov. 16, 2003

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland Contract Talks Stall," Oct. 18, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland Board Picks Cost-Saving Insurance," Nov. 15, 2005

Grand Rapids, Mich. - The Grand Rapids Press in an editorial Sunday praised a coalition of western Michigan school districts that have come together in an effort to reduce costs for employee health insurance.

School districts in Caledonia, Coopersville, East Grand Rapids, Northview, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, Rockford, South Haven, Spring Lake, Thornapple Kellogg, Vicksburg and Wyoming, plus intermediate school districts for Kent, Ottawa and Newaygo counties, have formed the West Michigan Health Alliance. The self-insured group covers about 1,100 employees, all from administrative and other non-union positions, The Press reported.

The districts expect to spend $1.3 million less on health insurance this year, according to The Press.

Bills introduced in the Michigan Senate promote similar cost-saving steps statewide, and the Michigan Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers' union in the state, backs the plan. The Press said the MFT estimates savings statewide could be $573 million the first three years.

"Most teacher insurance in Michigan is issued through the Michigan Education Special Services Association, which is an arm of the state's largest teacher union, the Michigan Education Association," The Press editorial said. "The union allows no competitive bidding or cafeteria-style employee choice of insurers."

A study by the Hay Group, commissioned by the Michigan Legislature earlier this year, found the average health insurance plan for public school employees cost about $11,700. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the average family health insurance plan for 2005 is about $10,800.

In closing its editorial, The Press said regional pools, reflecting regional costs, would work better than a statewide plan.

"The success in West Michigan is undeniable," the editorial said. "So are the dollars that are being freed up for education. Ms. Granholm and every lawmaker should be for that."

The Grand Rapids Press, "Chance to save on school insurance," Nov. 20, 2005

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Survey Finds Steady Decline in Businesses Offering Health Benefits to Workers," Sept. 14, 2005

Hay Group, "Report on the Feasibility and Cost Effectiveness of a Consolidated Statewide Health Benefits System for Michigan Public School Employees," July 13, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Why School Districts Can't Save on Health Care," Jan. 6, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teachers Deserve Good Benefits; Schools Deserve To Know What They Cost," July 6, 1998

Washington, D.C. - A Supreme Court ruling last week puts the onus on parents who challenge schools over the special education needs of their children, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The 6-2 decision puts the "burden of persuasion" on those who claim a special education program does not meet a student's needs. About 7 million students, or 13 percent of public school attendees nationwide, receive special education services, according to The Journal.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires school districts to provide individualized education plans for special education students, does not address who bears the burden of proving a program's inadequacies, The Journal said. Parents can request what is known as an "impartial due process hearing" if they are not satisfied with the program being offered.

"There's now basically a presumption that the (special program) that the schools propose has validity and that it's up to parents to disprove that," said Beth Sigall, a Virginia attorney who specializes in special-education cases.

"A lot of parents sue and don't have a lawyer because they can't afford one," Sigall told The Journal. "But the school district always has a lawyer, funded by parent tax dollars."

The Wall Street Journal, "Parents face tougher burden in special-education ruling," Nov. 15, 2005
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113198146297396488.html?mod=home_whats_news_us (subscription required)

Michigan Education Report, "No local autonomy for special education in Michigan," May 30, 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Frightened first grader becomes courageous college sophomore: Student benefits from special education in private school setting," Aug. 15, 1999

Ann Arbor, Mich. - Ann Arbor Public Schools is waiting on a $4.8 million payment from the State of Michigan for tax money that was incorrectly distributed, The Ann Arbor News reported.

Since the passage of Proposal A in 1994, local school taxes are sent to the state, which then redistributes the money statewide. Scio Township, outside of Ann Arbor, sent part of the money to the school district, The News said. AAPS set the money aside and worked with state and township officials to determine where the money should be sent.

During the 2004-2005 school year, however, the state said the district had $13 million that should have been sent to Lansing, according to The News. The state reduced Ann Arbor's school aid by that amount. School officials later determined the township had made $4.8 million in payments to the state education fund.

"It's a mistake (by the state that) we're paying for," school board Trustee Deb Mexicotte told The News.

Pending state verification, Ann Arbor is waiting on a check from the state for $4.8 million. The district spent $9 million from its fund balance during the 2004-2005 school year, The News said, but is anticipating an $18 million budget deficit within three years.

The Ann Arbor News, "Officials say state owes schools $4.8 million," Nov. 12, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MSU School Finance Study Too Narrow To Support Tax Hike Recommendation," Dec. 4, 2003

Michigan Education Report, "School property taxes could increase $5.5 billion over 10 years," Sept. 8, 2002

Muskegon, Mich. ? Several financial "deficiencies" were flagged by accountants from Brickley DeLong who performed the Muskegon Public Schools' 2004-2005 audit, the Muskegon Chronicle reported.

The failure to comply with a No Child Left Behind Act requirement that parents of students in underperforming schools be notified of transfer options was listed as a "reportable condition," by auditors, according to the Chronicle. Inadequate tracking of fund-raising money and athletic event gate receipts, improper use of the district's federal identification number on bank accounts by organizations not directly under the school board's control and incomplete documentation of employee time also were singled out as deficiencies by auditors.

The district's 2004-2005 budget increased to $64.2 million, $1.8 million more than the approved budget for last year, the Chronicle said. Muskegon covered a $1.3 million deficit using fund balance money, leaving $4.1 million in the fund balance.

"You are going through some very difficult times," auditor Gary Rasmussen told the board.

The Chronicle reported that some of those difficulties include a drop in enrollment of 226 students. As a result, Muskegon received $1.5 million less than the previous year in per pupil state aid. A district-run day care and after school program could not pay for itself, requiring a $350,000 subsidy from the fund balance.

Muskegon Chronicle, "Audit finds some problems with fund-raising, gate receipts," Nov. 16, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Financial scandals exposed in Michigan school districts," Nov. 17, 2002

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

Spokane, Wash. - Teachers in the Sprague-Lamont School District have quit the Washington Education Association, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The teachers will not negotiate at all, keeping for another year the contract that expired Aug. 31.

"Some of us felt we were not represented," said Jim Dishon, a science and math teacher in the district.

The WEA has about 78,000 members and negotiates contracts in 285 of Washington's 296 public school districts, the Post-Intelligencer reported. Dues are $650 a year per teacher.

"We will work to welcome these folks back and have an honest discussion about the value of a local, state and national voice," said Charles Haase, WEA president.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation praised the teachers' decision.

"The National Education Association and its local affiliate, the Washington Education Association, disrespect teachers by overcharging for collective bargaining in order to finance a radical political agenda that is out of line with the views of a majority of teachers," said Michael Reitz, director of Evergreen's Labor Policy Center, in a press release.

Several of the teachers have since joined the Northwest Professional Educators, an affiliate of the Association of American Educators, according to the Post-Intelligencer. The group describes itself as an "alternative to the partisan politics and non-educational agendas of the teacher labor unions."

The association provides non-bargaining support services such as liability insurance, professional development, conferences and newsletters.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Sprague teachers scrap union bargaining," Nov. 15, 2005

Evergreen Freedom Foundation, "Teachers reject union, form independent professional association," Oct. 26, 2005

Association of American Educators, "About Us"

Michigan Education Report, "Teacher's lawsuit overturns MEA policy," Jan. 10, 2001

Michigan Education Report, "Teachers vote to remove union from charter school," Dec. 13, 2001

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

To subscribe or unsubscribe, go to