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Article of Interest - Education

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Bridges4Kids LogoSchool Construction Under Scrutiny
MIRS, August 29, 2003
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School districts would be required to submit capital improvement programs to local governments, site plans to local, regional, or county planning commissions, and comply with local land use master plans and zoning under proposed recommendations contained in a report by the Michigan Land Use Institute and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The report contains results of a six-month research project called "Neighborhood Schools Project." The project was made possible by a grant from People and Land, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and managed by Public Sector Consultants.

Mac McCLELLAND, policy specialist with the Michigan Land Use Institute and primary author of the report, presented preliminary findings and proposed recommendations to the State Board of Education on Thursday.

McClelland said the research found Proposal A changed how local school districts and the state finance public education and inadvertently triggered a huge boom in building new schools.

As a result, "the total amount of indebtedness through the Bond Fund has tripled, from $4 billion in 1994 to $12 billion in 2002, while the overall state student population increased only 4.5 percent during the same period." McClelland said.

McClelland added that because Proposal A directs state money to schools on a per-pupil basis, schools are encouraged to openly compete for students by building "Taj Mahal"-type new facilities a strategy that has proven remarkably successful.

Other findings include:

- The standard recommendation for how much land a Michigan school needs is significantly greater (75 acres) than nationally recognized guidelines (45 acres)

- The state superintendent of public instruction has exclusive jurisdiction over school buildings and sites, but provides little oversight or direction in school location or site development decisions

- The desire to have all athletic fields adjacent to schools often leads to school construction outside of populated areas

- Schools built on greenfields are easy; renovating or building new schools in town centers is tough. Renovating an existing school while in operation on a constrained site presents more challenges than building a new school in an unoccupied open field.

The preliminary report calls for state leadership and incentives to help Michigan school districts make better, less expensive and more practical decisions about when, how, and where to spend money on school construction.

In addition to local government review of renovation and new construction plans, the recommendations call for:

- Providing technical assistance to school districts

- Requiring and providing matching grants for independent assessments of school facilities to accurately and fairly compare the cost of renovation versus construction of new schools

- Establishing state level standards for school construction that include extensive review of renovation opportunities, safe routes to schools, integration with surrounding uses, and shared facilities under the current jurisdiction of the state superintendent

- Providing financial incentives for renovation and require more intensive assessments for school closures under the Michigan School Bond Fund Program

- Developing financing incentives for urban school districts to enhance educational facilities

- Encouraging and facilitating collaboration between schools and local governments and other educational institutions to share athletic facilities.

McClelland said the project was prompted by Michigan's increasingly spread out patterns of development and the organizations' observation that new school construction in previously underdeveloped areas might be a factor in encouraging the trend of urban sprawl.

"Michigan is consuming land for new development at a rate eight times faster than the increase of population," McClelland said. 


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Michigan Medicaid Expanded To Relatives
MIRS, August 29, 2003

Low-income grandparents and other relatives who live with and care for non-birth children may qualify for medical coverage under new rules from the Department of Community Health (DCH) and Department of Human Services (FIA).

The new rules benefit nonparent caretaker relatives - close relatives that are acting as the parent for a child but are not the child's biological or adopted parent. The new rules were issued as the result of a federal court order in a case brought by kinship caregivers.

"Thousands of children in Michigan are being raised by caretaker relatives," said Jackie DOIG of Saginaw, Michigan-based Center for Civil Justice. "They are also known as 'kinship' caregivers. These caretakers may have been denied Medicaid previously and may now be eligible."

Even if some kinship caregivers are not eligible for Medicaid at this time, they may qualify for help paying for past medical bills or for help if they have high medical bills in the future, depending on individual circumstances. State officials also say that many kinship caregivers can receive financial help from the FIA to defray the cost of raising a relative's child, even if they do not qualify for Medicaid.

"As a result of the new rules, kinship caregivers may qualify for full Medicaid coverage now or they may have a lower monthly spend-down to meet before their Medicaid coverage begins," said FIA director Nannette BOWLER. A Medicaid "spend-down" is equivalent to a health insurance deductible.

Under the new rules, less of the caregiver's income will be counted when determining Medicaid eligibility or spend-down amounts. Unlike previous rules, the new rules allow nonparent caregivers to receive the same deductions from income as parents. These deductions are based on the number of children they are parenting.

"Kinship caregivers who were told they had a Medicaid spend-down in the past should re-apply for Medicaid to find out if the new rules will help them pay for medical care," said DCH Director Janet OLSZEWSKI.

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