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Bridges4Kids LogoEducation Candidates Differ on Funds, Tests
Gongwer News Service, October 13, 2004
For more articles like this visit http://www.bridges4kids.org

 

Though there is some question what it will matter on Election Day, given past voting trends for the race, the four major party candidates for the State Board of Education are working to stake out their positions on the state of schools in Michigan and on the changes needed to improve them.

As would be expected from their party affiliations, Marianne McGuire of Detroit and Herb Moyer of Temperance, the two incumbent Democrats, support additional funding for schools and are skeptical of expanding charter schools. Nancy Danhof of East Lansing and Robert Smart of Grand Rapids are skeptical of the need for more taxes to support schools and see value to expanding charters in the state.

But all see the need for strong public schools and for the board to take more of a role in developing education policy in the state.

"I ran eight years ago on a platform of wanting to enhance and support public education," Ms. McGuire, a retired teacher, said. "While I think we've come a long way in that area over the last eight years, I think we still have a lot to do."

Mr. Moyer, a retired superintendent, said just the willingness to run for the board shows his commitment to improving schools around the state. He noted that, while the post pays $2,400 a year, most candidates spend about $20,000 to win it.

"I have a real passion for public education," he said. "This is a natural for me."

Mr. Moyer said he also had a unique viewpoint to bring to the board. While he does come from an education background, he is the only former superintendent to sit on the board since it was restructured under the 1963 constitution. "So I think I have an element of credibility to share some of this expertise," he said.

Ms. Danhof, a member of the East Lansing Board of Education, said she sees the state board as having similar responsibilities, but from a different viewpoint.

"We have the ability, because of the vision we have, because you're sitting where you're sitting and have a view of all of the school districts; that's where you can start making good public policy decisions and leverage the money you do have at the state level," Ms. Danhof said.

Mr. Smart said schools are key to the economic development in the state. "The central issue I've been focusing on is integrating our education effort with our economic development effort," he said, noting both that the quality of the education system can attract business and excessive tax costs can discourage them.

"I'm the only one who comes out of a private business background," Mr. Smart said. "I'm hoping that the diversity of background that I bring to the board is an opportunity for other people in the state to say, 'Here's somebody who's not totally out of an education background that might be a voice for things that might be of concern to me.'"

Here is what the candidates had to say on major education issues:

SCHOOL FUNDING: All of the candidates agreed resources for schools would be a key issue in the coming years, both determining how much schools need and how those needs are covered.

Mr. Moyer said, despite assertions to the contrary, school budgets are about as lean as is possible. "Being a former superintendent, you have to be a fiscal conservative to survive," he said. "A lot of opponents of public education try to paint us as spendthrifts but it's just not true."

He said the recommendations to take another look at the school finance reforms of Proposal A of 1994 are as much to restore funding that should be there as they are to find new revenue where it is needed. "The Legislature has eroded some of the tax base that was originally in Proposal A," he said.

Ms. McGuire, noting it is the Legislature that has the authority to deal with financing, would recommend implementing programs to collect more sales tax on Internet and catalog sales, urged tax increases to covers schools' needs and called for a halt in further income tax reductions. "We haven't had a raise in property taxes in 10 years," she said in supporting a proposal by the Michigan State University Center for Education Policy recommendation for a 2-mill increase in the state school tax.

Ms. McGuire also said Proposal A also needs to be adjusted to provide more long-term stability to school funding, while also saying she awaits a board-commissioned study that will show what it costs to run public schools. "We've done a good job of closing in on districts that were really suffering, but with the future looking so unsure, I think we shouldn't be afraid to get in there and work on it to make sure that funding is secure, to make sure schools aren't in a position to have to go begging every year," she said.

Mr. Smart said there is still room to look at costs before giving schools more money. "Where schools have been hurt is the rapid increase in health care and pension costs that have outpaced inflation and the budgetary expectations of the school districts," he said. "We need to take a look at some options in that area."

He argued, for instance, that a statewide medical benefits plan could reduce costs for that service. And he urged changing teachers to a defined contribution pension system, arguing over the long term it would not be a reduction in benefits because of the historically strong earnings the Department of Treasury has generated on the pension funds.

SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE: While he said there is room to make the case to the voters if studies do show a need for more money in the system, Mr. Smart said raising taxes for schools without first looking at more cuts and at the actual needs of schools would hurt the state in the long run. "We going to end up with a system which drives businesses and jobs away," he said.

Noting Michigan is one of fewer than 10 states that do not give statewide support for infrastructure improvements, Mr. Smart said a study for the department on school infrastructure needs could potentially generate arguments for increasing taxes, or at least changing methods of funding school buildings.

Mr. Smart said support for school construction and repair would also fit into his vision of stronger ties between education and economic development. "Every citizen of the state has a stake not just in the success of their local school system but of the education system as a whole because that's going to attract the business," he said. "So we need to be concerned that we have adequate facilities in every community of the state, not just those community that have the tax base and the local will to support a better infrastructure."

Ms. Danhof said there needs to be statewide policy on addressing school infrastructure to ensure not only that buildings are safe and weather-tight, but that they will accommodate the communications equipment needed to run a modern school district and classroom. She said eliminating disparities in infrastructure between districts is a key role for the state board to play.

She said East Lansing was able to approve a bond issue to make needed renovations at its schools. "There are many districts that for whatever reason have not been successful and able to get that done, but it does not preclude the need to get that done. We need to address that at a statewide level."

ACHIEVEMENT/ASSESSMENT: Ms. Danhof said accountability of schools is the key to improving education and erasing any performance gaps between schools or groups within schools. "If we're not accountable, you can legislate all you want, you can put in all the money you want, you can train teachers all you want (but scores will not improve)," she said.

And she said that accountability should extend beyond the work being done in the classroom to also being sure that parents have the resources they need to ensure their children come to school ready to learn. "They need to come prepared to work hard and be able to do that," she said.

Mr. Smart said the board needs to look beyond current public school financing and programs to find ways to meet student's needs. "The state board needs to take a look at all the education resources available and see how we can integrate those programs to get the best outcomes possible," he said.

For instance, he said public schools for some time have been providing services such as transportation for private schools but have not looked at what services those schools could provide to the public schools. "We also may be able to use some resources the private school systems have as our public schools are trying to bring the most highly qualified teachers to the students," he said.

Ms. McGuire said closing achievement gaps has been a primary focus of the board for some time. "I think we've come a long ways in that area as well, but we've got a long way to go," she said.

And Ms. McGuire said the state is headed in the right direction with its current programs to assist schools. "I think we've done a lot by providing coaches to go into the schools," she said. "So we're looking at seeing a lot of progress."

Mr. Moyer said continuing improvements will require the right education policies and he acknowledged that, under the current state structure, it is the Legislature, not the board, that truly sets education policy. He said the board now needs to work harder to be recognized as a resource for legislators as they develop that policy. "We've got some insight and some value and we need to be capitalized on more," he said.

Among those policies must be some way to keep more experienced teachers in struggling schools and providing mentors for new and struggling teachers, Ms. Danhof said. "We have to make sure people who have figured out how to deal in high priority schools are in high priority schools," she said. "Too often what we get are our new teachers who need jobs. They need help."

M.E.A.P.: Part of the accountability of schools is being able to compare their progress to other similar schools and students to see which and who are actually struggling, Ms. Danhof said. And she said that is why the state needs to adopt the ACT as its high school test in place of the current Michigan Educational Assessment Program high school test, a position on which she appeared to stand alone among the candidates.

She said the MEAP tests at that level do not provide the information people want about students. "What most people want to know is how successful will students be when they graduate from school. The ACT can do that," she said, adding that the MEAP test is more defined by whether students do well in meeting the state's standards.

The change would also allow Michigan to better measure itself against the rest of the nation as it implements No Child Left Behind, she said and that additional costs for conversion could be minimized by aligning the high school MEAP with the ACT and Work Keys tests.

Mr. Smart said he would not recommend looking at any changes to the MEAP without more study. "The MEAP test has had some disappointments, but it is specifically designed to measure the achievement of the model curriculum that the state board adopted back in '96 so it is more aligned with the recommended instruction pattern in the state," he said. "The ACT has the advantage of being a national test, but the state department has said if we went to that system there would be additional costs."

Both Ms. McGuire and Mr. Moyer said the board had already recommended against any change in the testing because of the projected cost of the change.

Ms. McGuire said the state and the nation have gone too far with testing, or at least with how the results of the tests are used. "I think it's good to have goals and it's good to have a standardized test and it's good to have a goal of having high quality teachers," Ms. McGuire said. "We don't feel schools should be punished for not meeting AYP, that they should be entitled to some help."

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The candidates differed on whether public school academies were contributing to those efforts to improve schools.

Ms. McGuire said there should be no new charters issued until there are more controls over how the schools operate.

"I am really in favor of charter schools from a standpoint of qualitative, not quantitative," Mr. Moyer said. He said the state should be ensuring the charters that are running are helping students rather than trying to make charters available to anyone wanting to start a school.

"I'm extremely disappointed that the Legislature, after an in-depth study by the McPherson Commission, has done nothing," Mr. Moyer said.

Michigan State University President Peter McPherson presided over a commission that recommended a number of changes to the governance of charter schools, few of which have been adopted as charter opponents want the governance changes in place first, while proponents want to simultaneously increase or remove the cap on the number of charters allowed by universities.

Ms. Danhof said there might not be a need for additional oversight of charter schools. "There is a process set in place for charters. I'm not sure it's been equitably and consistently applied," she said. "So before we start riding off on our horse writing more legislation, we need to be sure what's currently on the books is being done consistently."

"The whole question of limiting authorization is really not necessary," Mr. Smart said. "If I opened a charter school and nobody felt I could provide a superior educational experience, my charter school is going to fail; or if you open a charter school and it fails to deliver on its promises, it's just going to go out of business."

And he argued that charters were needed to both give parents an option and to ensure local school districts are making the improvements they need to make.

Ms. Danhof said the larger failing in the charter school system is collaboration. "If I have one wish for charter schools right now, it's that authorizers, management companies, charter schools and tradition schools would become collaborative entities," she said. "We have to stop this warring attitude."

She said charters should be seen as competition for traditional schools in that they provide alternatives to the programs offered in the traditional schools, not simply a different place to go. And she said the two types of schools should be learning from each other, exchanging what works and what has not been successful.

ELECTION FACTORS: In the end, it is not clear whether the individual candidates' positions on charters or any other issues will be as important as their party affiliation or their gender. Historically, the candidate who takes the top of the ticket has brought along the education board candidates of his or her party. In the years where voters have split their ticket for the State Board of Education, such as in 2000, they have voted for women.

With the presidential race expected to be close, it is unclear whether party will be the defining issue, whether candidates will be chosen by gender, or whether voters will actually try to get to know the individual candidates.

"The public does not focus on this race," Mr. Smart said. "Nobody can raise the resources, at least I don't know where they are, to allow you to truly establish a separate identity. ... If it wasn't for the party structure I don't know how anybody would get their message out."

While she acknowledged the trend that the education posts follow the top of the ticket, Ms. Danhof said voters need to be challenged to look beyond party monikers. "What this is about, it's not parties, it's not politics, it's not about top of the ticket; it's about what's best for students and families," she said.

Ms. McGuire said voters have been trying to learn more about the education board candidates before casting their votes. "I think people are more and more paying attention to who's running for these seats," she said.

But all admitted they did not have funding to run much of a statewide media campaign that would get their names out to voters before they actually looked at a ballot. Instead, they will utilize limited radio and newspaper advertisements in the later stages of the campaign and appear before groups whenever they can.

Only one of the three candidates, Mr. Smart, had any Internet presence beyond listing on the party website. And he was not listed on the Republican Party site as of Wednesday, though Chris Paolino, party spokesperson, said that was an oversight.

Ginotti, Cox Pitch New Web Page for Prescription Drugs
MIRS, October 13, 2004

Republican House candidate Carlo GINOTTI and his old prosecutor buddy, current Attorney General Mike COX, are proposing Michigan set up a new web site that prices out prescription drugs on a county and city-wide level.

The web site, similar to one set up in New York www.nyagrx.org, would let residents pick the type of medication they need and pick which county they live in. With one click, residents can see which stores sell the drug and at what price.

The idea is that residents can find the best price possible in their area since drug prices are typically not advertised or even displayed.

"Prescription drugs can vary significantly from one store to the other and so it is critical that we provide an outlet for all Michigan residents to find the best prices possible on the prescription drugs that they use," said Ginotti, who is running against Democrat Marie DONIAGAN in the 26th District of Royal Oak.

MIRS gave the New York AG's web site a try and randomly typed in the availability of the drug "Atenolol" in Albany County. It found several pharmacies that sold the medication, including the Hannaford Pharmacy in Albany which sold 30 50-miligram tablets for $7.99. Meanwhile, the GEM Drug Corporation in Albany sold the same product for $29.30.

The New York web site also lets the user type in a zip code and the number of miles he or she is willing to travel.

Michigan Senators Learn Of The Price Of Government
MIRS, October 13, 2004

The Senate Republican Caucus was the latest group of influential Lansingites to listen to author Peter HUTCHINSON's take on how state government should completely redo its budget-balancing process today.

Most of the GOP caucus and some key staffers listened to Hutchinson at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce restate his belief that if lawmakers saw the budget in terms of prioritizing individual programs instead of refereeing an annual Battle Royale of special interests, the budget process would be much easier.

Finding a person coming out of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce today who had actually read Hutchinson's somewhat dry "The Price of Government" from cover to cover was a challenge. But what was read combined with today's presentation did get the wheels turning for a group that is used to the traditional budgetary process of fighting minor battles in individual departmental budgets.

"The Price of Government" has been Lansing's top seller for several months now. Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM asked some of her key subordinates to read it. The Chamber of Commerce brought Hutchinson to speak to business leaders and other lawmakers a couple months ago.

Part of the allure is the fact that Gov. Gary LOCKE in Washington tried this approach in his state when the state deficit hit $2.5 billion and it worked. Locke changed the game by treating budget submissions as offers to deliver results at a price and then balanced that offer with the citizens' needs. He then "bought" those offers that had the biggest benefit at the best price and left the rest on the Capitol floor.

The thought here is that state government is challenging these individual programs to push themselves to deliver results and prove their worth every year. Senate Majority Leader Ken SIKKEMA (R-Wyoming) appears interested in trying this approach with the ballooning Medicaid budget, but nothing formal has been announced.

 

Michigan Court Orders Worker's Compensation to Child
Gongwer News Service, October 13, 2004

A company must pay worker's compensation benefits for the daughter of an employee killed on the job even though the unmarried worker had not provided support for the girl while he was alive, a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals has ruled.

The court, in a per curiam ruling released Wednesday, said Prestige Painting must provide 500 weeks in benefits to the girl because the law requires payments to the dependent children of workers.

The employee, Scott Moore, was killed five months after the birth of his daughter but had obtained a paternity test that determined he was the father.

The company contended the girl should not be considered a dependent because she was not economically dependent on Mr. Moore when he died, an argument rejected by the worker's compensation magistrate, but adopted by the Worker's Compensation Appellate Commission when it denied benefits.

Judges Mark Cavanagh, Thomas Fitzgerald and Patrick Meter (Moore v. Prestige Painting, COA docket No. 249924) said the worker's compensation law states that a child under age 16 is conclusively presumed to be dependent upon a parent, and noted a 1984 court decision declaring that the provision must be applied to illegitimate children.

The commission had ruled that only children living with a worker at the time of death are conclusively presumed to be dependents.

The court, holding that the commission applied the wrong section of the law, which deals with employee injury rather than death, said the law makes no mention that a child must be living with the employee at the time of death to be conclusively presumed a dependent. It also said only children over age 16 who are incapacitated from earning due to physical or mental impairments must be living with a worker at the time of death in order to receive benefits.

"To require payment of dependent benefits to the children of former spouses (i.e., legitimate children) yet deny those benefits to illegitimate offspring would violate constitutional equal protection guarantees," the court said.

 

Ed Board Adopts Progress Standards For Districts
Gongwer News Service, October 12, 2004

GRAND RAPIDS - Despite complaints from larger districts that they would be at a disadvantage from the policy, the State Board of Education adopted a policy Tuesday that requires all districts to adopt adequate yearly progress standards for at least two of their school levels to be considered having met AYP overall.

Under the policy, adopted on a 7-1 vote, some 75 percent of the state's 624 school districts are expected to meet adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The policy was a compromise between requiring districts to meet AYP at the elementary, middle and high school levels or requiring them to meet it at only one of those levels.

The district-wide report cards are expected to be released November 4, along with the high school report cards.

The policy raised concerns for school districts because the federal law requires that any district not meeting AYP two consecutive years develop and implement a district improvement plan. Any district that does not meet the standard for four years be subject to some form of restructuring.

The proposal was also a concern for districts because the law requires a district make AYP not only on the aggregate scores, but also for each of nine subgroups. A district could theoretically not make AYP, even though all of its schools make AYP, because the whole district enough members of one or more subgroups to be require the scores of those subgroups be considered.

Chief academic officer Jeremy Hughes said the proposal would not represent a lowering of standards. "We cannot ignore the pressure on individual schools to make AYP. I can't imagine a school district resting on its laurels," he said. "It's designed to protect school districts from having to undergo serious sanctions. There's got to be a little flexibility here."

"It's a balance between Michigan having some of the highest, most rigorous standards and making sure it's fair and equitable for schools," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins.

Board member John Austin (D-Ann Arbor), who moved adoption of the policy, had been one of several board members arguing districts should be required to meet AYP at all three grade levels to be considered having met the standard themselves. He said the policy recommended by department staff was a compromise between his concerns and those of the districts.

"If all the schools make it and the district does not, that's something to reflect on," he said.

Board member Eileen Weiser (R-Ann Arbor) said the board also needs to look at the public reaction to the numbers. The one-of-three proposal would have 90 percent of districts meeting the progress standard while the three-of-three proposal would have only 47 percent meeting it.

"It's hard for me to imagine that we're at 90 percent of where we need to be," Ms. Weiser said. "I don't think the state can tolerate at this point the 47 percent."

School districts had proposed, at least for the first year, to allow districts to be considered having met AYP if they had at least one of three grade levels meeting the standard. "This gives us another attempt to focus on the impact of one of the subgroups," said Gail Green representing Macomb County school superintendents. "This is not about trying to dodge accountability.

"AYP for the district is about punishment," Ms. Green said. "AYP for the schools is about improvement."

Laura Wotruba with the Middle Cities Education Association recommended a change that would allow the districts with the most schools in subgroups to use the one-in-three standard while all other districts would have to meet the two-of-three standards.

Again, she said the proposal would minimize the effect of subgroups on the districts that would be most affected.

Board member Marianne McGuire (D-Detroit) said anything more than the one-of-three proposal would be too harsh on school districts. "I think all of our schools are trying very hard," she said.

But Jim Sandy with the Michigan Business Leaders for Educational Excellence said some districts have moved students around to avoid having subgroups affect any of the individual buildings.

"That got the school off the hook, but it won't get the district off the hook," he said.

While he said the district should be required to meet AYP at all three levels, he said the two-of-three proposal was a "fair compromise."

HIGH SCHOOL AYP: While the board was discussing how to address AYP measurements for school districts, 81 high schools in the state were receiving the letters that they had not met AYP and were subject to sanctions or improvement plans.

Mr. Hughes said the letters were going out before the report cards as a compromise with the US Department of Education, which had already cited the state for not having its high school report cards out before the beginning of the school year as required by federal law.

The agreement allows parents to be offered the option of transportation to a different school or free tutoring services earlier in the year than those services would have been offered had the state waited until report cards had been issued.

Mr. Hughes also noted the number, which could grow as appeals of AYP findings are addressed, are still a small percentage of the 1,000 schools in the state containing high school grade levels.

GAMING AMENDMENT: After a presentation by Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters, the board adopted a statement Tuesday opposing Proposal 04-1 that would require statewide and local referendums for any expansion of gaming.

Mr. Peters told the board, as he has said since the proposal made the ballot, that the popular vote requirements could interfere with the Lottery's ability to develop new games and to expand use of self-service terminals.

In the statement by board president Kathleen Straus (D-Bloomfield Hills), on behalf of the board which adopted it 5-0, the board said the proposal "has the potential to have a devastating effect on public education in Michigan." Ms. McGuire abstained on the vote.

"If passed, provisions in Proposal 1 will greatly diminish the revenues from state lottery games going to the state School Aid Fund," the statement said. "With the structural deficit facing Michigan, which has placed a severe strain on our schools, students, and teachers, the potential for any loss of funds to our schools and children would be devastating."

Mr. Peters said the lottery could potentially lose $602.1 million over the next three years between restrictions on development of new games, loss of vendors because of restriction son self-serve terminals and potential withdrawal from the Mega Millions game if California joins and requires changes to the game.

"I don't think voters want to vote on any new game we come up with," Mr. Peters said.

Mr. Austin said the state, and the board, should do what they can to support the lottery. "If we're going to have gambling, I'd rather it be under the auspices of the Lottery and benefit the schools," he said.

"It's a bad bet," Mr. Watkins said of the proposal. "It's clearly going to have an impact on the slice of pie for the schools."

Proponents, who did not have a representative present to address the board, have argued the proposal would not affect any lottery games as long as the Lottery did not implement slot machines or any electronic gaming or begin using table games.

SOCIAL STUDIES: The board at its December meeting will likely discuss whether to add the Michigan Educational Assessment Program social studies test to the Michigan Merit Award qualifications. That was one of 10 recommendations from a task force on the test accepted by the board on Tuesday.

The board asked the department to bring back policy statements based on the recommendations to its December meeting.

The social studies test has raised concerns for several years because of the consistently low scores at all levels of its application and the task force suggested that adding the test to the requirements for the merit award would draw attention to the test and encourage better performance.

"To include it in the Merit scholarship would give it equity to other subjects," said Gerald Stoltman, a professor at Western Michigan University and co-chair of the task force. "It would encourage students to perform on the social studies MEAP."

The task force also recommended that the department develop grade level expectations for social students as it has for math, science and language arts. Social studies curriculum is still based grade range expectations.

And it called on the department to develop grade level tests on the subject that would allow districts to measure annual performance between the MEAP administrations.

The task force also called of improved professional development for social studies, teachers and for an improved system to communication program changes to teachers.

    

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