A new legislative proposal could let officials at certain school districts use greater discretion to devise creative strategies for their students rather than wait for permission from state bureaucrats.

House bills 6314 and 6315, sponsored by Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, would create the legal framework for a “public innovation district.” Any school district could apply to the state superintendent to obtain this status. The designation, good for five years at a time, would give district leaders more freedom to operate year-round or outside the traditional school setting and craft different ways to measure student learning. To get this freedom now, districts typically have to wait for the Michigan Department of Education to approve a waiver request.

After having gone through a one-state recession and then a prolonged national recession, Michigan’s economy went through a lot in the 2000s. The state has recovered since, but a comparison of the private and public sectors shows that the public sector’s recovery has been stronger.

Lyndon Township is a rural community of fewer than 3,000 people in Washtenaw County. Its municipal budget is around $500,000. Residents went to the polls last year and approved borrowing $7 million to build a new high-speed internet connection.

Now that Michigan has repealed its prevailing wage law, the big question is how much it will save, either for taxpayers or to be spent elsewhere. The law mandated using union contracts to set the pay of workers on public construction projects — those done primarily for schools, roads, universities, city halls, prisons, and so forth.

In a front page story, the Detroit Free Press reports that “Detroit schools are grinding out another ‘lost generation.’” The article goes on to lament that up to 40 percent of students leave or graduate without mastering “simple arithmetic,” their handwriting is “atrocious” and their spelling is “deplorable.”

Did you ever watch the old movie “The Blob”? It’s where this tiny piece of goo keeps growing, gobbling up everyone in sight. The horror reaches a climax as the blob becomes so large that nothing can stop it. A young Steve McQueen eventually figures out that it doesn’t like the cold, so the town freezes it and transports it to the Arctic.

Some critics ignore or overlook the fact that Michigan's public charter schools exist to offer families a better option. These critics may not realize these options endure because most of those families prefer what they have found.

Legislative Initiative Petition 3, Mandate employers provide paid leave: Passed 24 to 13 in the Senate

To mandate that all employers in the state (except federal agencies) grant employees one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a total of 40 hours annually for small businesses, and 72 hours annually for larger employers. The leave could be used for individual or family medical issues, domestic violence issues, school meetings and more. Employers would be required to keep relevant records for five years, and under procedures specified in the measure, a violation claim by an employee could potentially subject an employer to a legal presumption of having broken the law.

It’s frustrating and a hardship when your job moves, which is a prospect facing some state employees in one rural Michigan community. But this is no reason why the state government should spend tens of millions of dollars each year on unnecessary prisons.

The Michigan Senate may soon debate Senate Bills 703 through 707, which were introduced late last year. These bills would amend current law to increase government oversight of tourism agencies, having the practical effect of ensuring that government speech trumps individual free speech for lodging owners.

In analyzing the current political environment, a columnist says that socialism “once brought great benefits to Detroit.” In many ways, over the past few decades, Detroit has been the most “socialist” city in Michigan – but it’s hard to see the benefits.

As the Legislature completes its last week of summer break, the Roll Call Report begins a series that reviews key votes of the 2017-2018 session.

Senate Bill 40, Expand state subsidies for particular companies on state line: Passed 24 to 13 in the Senate on February 9, 2017

In Michigan, it's far from easy to get a new public charter school off the ground.

Charters help students learn more on average, and parents continue to seek out these tuition-free options. Yet the number of charter schools plateaued five years ago at around 300, shortly after the Michigan Legislature lifted the statewide charter cap in late 2011.

It is often said that people need to pay higher taxes if they want quality government services. The connection doesn’t work quite that way, however, and the state’s pension mess demonstrates the point.

Ideally, when a government employee earns pension benefits, his or her employer sets aside money into the retirement system where it is invested, grows and pays for the employee’s pension when he or she retires. Setting aside the right amount of money puts the costs of today’s government onto today’s taxpayers. Underfunding the pension system pushes the costs onto tomorrow’s taxpayers.

The latest available data from the Michigan Department of Corrections indicates that Michigan courts delivered 47,347 felony convictions in 2016. Because some people received more than one conviction, the total number of people with new felonies is slightly smaller, but tens of thousands of Michigan citizens who did not have a felony record at the end of last year will have one by the end of this year. We should carefully examine our policies to ensure that we’re prepared to meet the challenges posed by this growing demographic.

The Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative — a group of school interests that want more money for schools — released a poll indicating that Michigan voters also want more school funding. Without listing where the money would come from, the poll tells politicians little about popular budget priorities.

Volunteer-led fire departments are just as effective as paid departments and provide significant cost savings to communities. Local governments should reassess the need for a paid firefighting force and consider replacing it with a volunteer force. Chase Slasinski, a fiscal policy intern at the Mackinac Center, expands on the benefits of a volunteer fire department in an op-ed published in the Lansing State Journal:

On the campaign trail, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer pledged to unleash the Michigan Economic Development Corporation if she became governor. There are a number of ways the state could expand its business subsidy regimen, but few that make sense.

The Legislature remains in recess with regular sessions resuming Sept. 5. Rather than votes this report contains some interesting or noteworthy recent bill introductions.

Senate Bill 1065: Senate Bill 1065: Give taxpayer subsidies to “large event” organizers

The U.S. Supreme Court recently held that public employees no longer must pay union fees as a condition of employment. The court reasoned that mandatory payments constituted compelled speech and association, which violate the First Amendment. School employees, state workers, police officers, firefighters and any secretaries, nurses, janitors, and others who work for a government entity can choose whether to join or pay fees to a union.

Oakland County's Berkley School District is giving its high schoolers more time to sleep in, reports The Detroit News. While some may say the district is just encouraging teenaged laziness, the evidence suggests the new schedule is likely to help students learn more.

Most games are zero-sum, meaning there is a winner and a loser: Someone goes home with the prize, while someone else goes home empty-handed. President Donald Trump appears to see trade as a game of this nature. But unlike football, there are no winners in a game of tariffs, and Michigan may be among the biggest losers of all. Despite attempting to promote the national economic welfare, Trump’s tariffs will instead harm Michigan’s economy and the United States as a whole.

A West Michigan school superintendent is winning widespread praise, deservedly so, for spending his summer painting school walls to save the district money. Interestingly, if he were paid directly for this work, state licensing laws would make his effort illegal.

August 15, 2018

Dear Lawmakers and Candidates for Office:

If you lost a contested primary election in which 1,400 votes had been cast in total, but 400 of those that likely favored you had first been tossed out, would you be angry? Of course you would. The creative vote count may amount to election rigging and what statisticians might generously call “selection bias.”