December 4, 2008
Senate Education Committee Chair Wayne KUIPERS (R-Holland) today
once again slipped in a measure to expand charter schools, this
time on a Promise Zone bill the Governor wants to sign before
the end of the year.
Kuipers tacked on in September a similar amendment onto
legislation that would OK background checks on substitute bus
drivers (See "Senate Says Yes To High School Charters,"
9/24/08). That bill (SB 1252) narrowly passed, but is still
sitting in the House.
Today, SB 0861 was up in the Education Committee. It would set
up Promise Zones in 10 lower-income areas, which would give kids
a college scholarship to be used for two years at a community
Kuipers has long advocated charter schools as a way for Michigan
to improve its educational system, particularly in Detroit. He's
been working on a neighborhood schools initiative as a trade-off
to giving the trouble Detroit Public Schools its first-class
schools status (See "DPS-Charter Swap On Tap In Lame Duck?"
10/28/08). But with Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP
(R-Rochester) stalling any legislative action until Gov.
Jennifer GRANHOLM issues an executive order with budget cuts,
Kuipers popped this amendment today (see related story).
The bill moved 3-2, with Sens. Gretchen WHITMER (D-East Lansing)
and John GLEASON (D-Flushing) voting no.
Whitmer, a co-sponsor, said she was prepared to vote for the
bill, but complained Kuipers' amendment had been hidden inside
committee members' binders.
"This is a dramatic departure from the intent of the bill," she
said. "This the ugly political part of lame duck."
Whitmer said Kuipers was frustrated that he hadn't gotten
traction on his charter expansion, so he tacked it onto
"something the Governor really wants done."
Kuipers said SB 0861 differs from House legislation in that it
limits the number of zones. He said the next step is to
negotiate a compromise with the House. The Senate version also
limits the funds to go toward community colleges, not four-year
institutions. Sen. Nancy CASSIS (R-Novi) expressed interest in
expanding it to four-year universities.
"Most of them won't graduate anyway, so at least they can work
towards an associate's degree," Kuipers said.
The bill would permit a city, township, county, school district
or intermediate school district in an area where the percentage
of children living below the federal poverty rate is higher than
the State average to set up a Promise Zone for students who
graduated from a public high school within that zone.
The Department of Treasury would review a resolution to
establish a Promise Zone and certify that the proposed plan met
the bill's requirements. A Promise Zone authority would be
created under the supervision and control of an 11-member board.
The State would capture half of any increase in the State
education tax collected in the promise zone beginning the year
after the Promise Zone authority made its initial payment of
financial assistance, and pay the captured tax to the authority.
The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates the bill would deplete the
School Aid Fund by $46.2 million.
Anti-Bullying Bills Move
After much delay, the Senate Education Committee also kicked out
anti-bullying bills that passed the House a year and a half ago.
The Michigan Safe Schools Coalition held another event at the
Capitol last month pushing for passage (See "Bits and Tidbits,"
HB 4091 and HB 4162, which are tie-barred together, would
require schools to adopt a policy that prohibits harassment or
bullying at school. The bills both moved with unanimous support.
HB 4091 would be known as "Matt's Safe School Law" in honor of
Matt EPLING, a 14-year-old from East Lansing who committed
suicide after being hazed at school.
The issue became mired in controversy when the American Family
Association of Michigan (AFAM) headed by Gary GLENN took aim at
legislation (See "Senators: AFAM Not Bullying On Bills,"
The bills' definition of harassment and bullying include what is
"reasonably perceived to be motivated by an actual or perceived
characteristic, such as height, weight, religion, race, color,
ancestry, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or
gender identity or expression, or by socioeconomic status or a
mental, physical, or sensory disability or impairment, or is
reasonably perceived to be based on association with another
person who has or is perceived to have any of these
characteristics or any other distinguishing characteristic."
AFAM takes issue with sexual orientation and gender identity
being included in the legislation, with Glenn complaining that
"promotes the homosexual agenda."
That issue did not come up in committee today.
Under the bills, the Department of Education would develop a
model policy within 30 days after the effective date of the
legislation. Schools would then have six months to adopt a
policy. Within the following year, the department would submit a
report to the Senate and House standing committees on Education
on the policies.
"I guess I've been one of the problems in getting this bill
going," said Sen. Jerry VAN WOERKOM (R-Norton Shores). "But as a
former principal, I found it difficult to find that line between
what is teasing and what is bullying."
Van Woerkom said he was satisfied with language that would allow
local schools to make that determination.
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