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Charter, Promise Zones, Anti-Bullying Measures Move in Michigan Senate Education Committee

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MIRS, 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 college.

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," 11/13/08).

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," 3/31/08).

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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