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 Articles of Interest - Michigan

starMI Kuipers to Hold School "Budget Busters" Hearingsstar

starMI State Releasing First School Safety Reportstar

starMI U.S. Supreme Court Shuns Detroit School Takeover Casestar

starMI Granholm Sees Both Good and Risk in Bush Medicaid Proposalstar


from Gongwer News Service, February 24, 2003
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Gongwer News Service, February 24, 2003

With an eye toward state budgets that have already cut state aid to schools and could mean additional scalebacks in the upcoming year, a Senate committee this week will begin a review of possible state requirements that could be done away with to allow schools to be run more efficiently. Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland), chair of the Education Committee, said he wants to know how the state is stifling creativity or adding costs through regulations that may have little value.

The changes on the table could range from early retirement programs to revising the role of intermediate school districts to recalculating how districts meet state instructional requirements.

"We want to help districts meet the costs of providing good quality education," Mr. Kuipers said of what he dubs "budget buster weeks". "If the state is standing in the way of doing that, we want to identify that and try to write it out of the School Code."

The Senate Education Committee will hold its first hearing on the matter Thursday and follow with a second session a week later. "We want to hear from the trenches," Mr. Kuipers said in explaining that the hearings will be open for testimony by officials from local districts and intermediate schools.

He said work would begin right after the first hearing if schools make suggestions that should be taken seriously.

Some changes may be politically difficult, Mr. Kuipers added. He said some complaints that have surfaced already include removing the requirement for instructional days since the state mandates the number of hours of instruction in a year.

An early retirement program would allow some districts with a roster of very experienced teachers to replace them with younger teachers, thus paring payroll costs. Other areas for review, Mr. Kuipers said, include the role of ISDs to determine if some could be consolidated or if the existing ones could provide more services to achieve economies of scale, and state's testing requirements to see if the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, used to meet federal accountability requirements, or other tests need to be streamlined.

"We will take a look at anything that is brought to us, we will brainstorm it and see where it goes," Mr. Kuipers said. "Our goal is that because we can't send more money to schools, we can create a system where they can get the most bang for the buck."

The first hearing will be at 2 p.m. Thursday in Room 210 of the Farnum Building in Lansing.

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Gongwer News Service, February 24, 2003

The first statewide school safety report will officially be released Tuesday. While the report shows such statistics as 16,000 assaults, 375 bomb threats and 1,558 expulsions, officials said the report actually shows that Michigan schools are relatively safe.

On the expulsions, for instance, Lani Gerst Elhenicky with the Center for Educational Performance and Information, which compiled the report, noted the 1,558 students expelled came from a base of 1.7 million students.

"The number of crimes is actually relatively low and the number of schools implementing safety practices is relatively high," Ms. Elhenicky said.

But she said the report should be cause for thought among school policy makers. "We would hope that school administrators would take a closer look at what's going on in their districts and ask themselves, 'What is this data telling us?'" she said.

For CEPI's part, the goal is to improve both the quality and quantity of the data for the next report, Ms. Elhenicky said. She noted that about 98 percent of the school buildings in the state provided information. But she said in some cases information provided was incomplete, such as an expulsion being recorded, but the reason for and final duration of the expulsion being omitted.

Ms. Elheniky said the format of the report this year is also somewhat difficult to wade through. "It's not really very consumer friendly," she said.

The report, posted on the CEPI Web site, consists of three Adobe Acrobat files, two Excel spreadsheets and an HTML file.

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Gongwer News Service, February 24, 2003

The state's takeover of the Detroit Public School district, through which it installed an appointed reform board to take the place of the elected board, withstood a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused on Monday to consider whether the state acted illegally.

The 1999 state law creating the reform board provided for a vote by residents in the district in April 2004 on whether to return to the elected board.

The takeover had been challenged as a denial of the Voting Rights Act because it affected minorities disproportionately, in view of doing away with an elected board in a district that is about 83 percent black. The Detroit branch of the NAACP had joined in the suit asking the high court to hear the case.

The board, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and the state contended the change was driven by years of poor performance by Detroit students on state tests and in graduation rates, as well as other administrative shortcomings.

Governor Jennifer Granholm said she supports a voted school board, adding, "The mayor and I have been having conversations about this. ... I've been supportive of giving people back the right to vote. Now that might be a modified board situation. When that happens is all subject to discussion with the mayor and those who are affected. But I think that Detroiters should have the right to vote."

The law, creating a board that consists mostly of appointees of the Detroit mayor, had been upheld last year by a unanimous panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (Moore v. Detroit School Reform Board, USCOA docket No. 00-2334) and in 2000 by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds.

The courts did not necessarily agree that the poor academic performance was the fault of the elected board, but concluded the Legislature was entitled to believe the appointed board would be more effective. The appeals court also said while citizens have a fundamental right to elect lawmakers, they do not enjoy that right regarding officials who serve administrative functions.

Former Governor John Engler had pushed for the reform board, saying the elected board was unwilling or incapable of improving poor academic performance. Toward the end of his tenure, he also said he had concluded an elected board in major cities cannot work successfully.

Sage Eastman, spokesperson for Attorney General Mike Cox whose office defended the law, said, "It's good to have a final resolution and now all parties can start to move forward."

Opponents of the law have vowed to make their views heard at the ballot box when voters are allowed to exercise their right to decide whether to return to the elected board.

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Gongwer News Service, February 24, 2003

WASHINGTON-President George W. Bush's proposal to reshape dramatically the beleaguered Medicaid system, laid out with new detail Monday, has received a "guarded" reaction from Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Mr. Bush and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson huddled with the nation's governors, meeting here for the National Governors Association, to make the case for their plan to cure the ailing joint state-federal health care program for the poor. Mr. Thompson is seeking to have the plan signed into law this year.

States across the country, including Michigan, have seen their budgets crippled in large part by skyrocketing Medicaid costs. The Granholm administration has said the only way to address Medicaid costs in the existing system would be to either freeze/cut reimbursement rates to health care providers, restrict eligibility or eliminate optional services. Optional services include prescription drug coverage, dental and podiatry among others.

The Bush administration's plan would be voluntary and would only affect optional services provided by the states, not those services mandated by the federal government. Instead of the current system, where states receive matching federal money for every dollar they spend, states would be given a fixed amount of money to pay for optional services.

That block of money (although the administration denies it is a block grant) would grow by an average of 9 percent per year for all states (it would vary from state to state based on a formula) in the first seven years of the program.

States also would get an additional 2 percent increase in the first year to aid the cost of creating a new optional services program. But in the last three years of the program, they rate of increase would drop to an average of 6 percent.

"It's less costly, more money up front, more options," Mr. Thompson told the governors during a panel discussion.

Ms. Granholm said she sees benefits in flexibility and additional money in the first year, but is concerned that states would be in financial jeopardy if the Medicaid population rises more dramatically than the forecasted population growth that helps set the block of federal money.

"I like flexibility. I like to be able to craft our own program," she said. "We're buying a risk regarding these optional Medicaid populations. ... Is that worth the risk is really the question we've got to evaluate. And that really requires expert analysis. I've got to bring that home."

Two Democratic members of Congress participating in the panel with Mr. Thompson, including U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn, warned of the reduced funding in the later years of the program. Mr. Dingell warned governors to read the fine print of Mr. Bush's plan. And he criticized the reduced increases in the program's later years.

"If you're looking at the future, you could say, 'I better be careful,'" he said.

U.S. Sen. John Breaux (D-Louisiana) said it is "absolutely essential" to fix Medicaid, but sees problems in the Bush plan.

"The good news is we're going to give you a lot more money. The bad news is we're going to take it away from you after a period of time," he said. "I don't want to be around the last three years because the cuts are going to be a lot bigger than the seven years of increases."

But Mr. Thompson said funding would continue to grow in the eighth through 10th years of the program at an average of 6 percent a year. "If this passes, I can't imagine any state that wouldn't take it," he said.

The governors established a Medicaid task force to work with the administration on drawing up a plan.

Connecticut Governor John Rowland, a Republican, said governors should be glad the administration is prioritizing Medicaid and recognize they will have the opportunity to shape it. Mr. Rowland said governors could use the first seven years of the program planning reform for the final three years when funding increases will drop.

"My hope and dream is that the plan-which is a work in progress-becomes our plan," he said.

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