Feature

Let the voters decide!

Gov. Snyder and Attorney Bill Schuette launched a formal attack on voter rights yesterday when they filed court papers to block the constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining and the middle class from the November ballot. The two claim that the amendment changes too many laws to be listed in the 100-word statement of purpose for the ballot and should therefore be denied a place on the ballot.

At the request of the Governor, Schuette issued an opinion stating that “the Governor and lawmakers have enacted reforms that have led to economic growth and budget stability.” The concern is that the ballot proposal could undo all of that.

Andrew Nickelhoff, attorney for the Protect Our Jobs campaign, discounted Schuette’s opinion since it’s based on faulty legal reasoning and the proposal has already met all legal requirements.

SB 1040 finally passes House, Senate; employees, retirees stuck with the cost

There's little good news in the Senate and House finally voting out SB 1040 today. On a 21-6 Senate vote and a 57-48 House vote, they increased current employee contributions to their pensions, increased retirees' share of their health insurance, and ended retiree health insurance for new hires.

"This bill is not fair. It just shifts costs around and solves nothing," said Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) who spoke in opposition to the bill.

Under SB 1040, new hires will not be moved to a defined contribution retirement benefit. They will stay in the current hybrid system which combines a defined benefit and defined contribution mix. New to the bill, is the call for a study of the financial impact moving new hires to the defined contribution would cause. The study will be done by Nov. 15.

One more time for SB 1040?

The Senate will try again tomorrow to take care of SB 1040, legislation dismantling the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. (MPSERS). They tried last month but were short the votes (16-22) to pass the House version.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Kahn--author of the original bill--claim "there is a deal in principle" and they have the 20 votes needed to pass the bill. Gov. Snyder has been in favor of cost-cutting changes to the system--so much so that they were included in the 2013 budget.

All along a key issue has been switching members from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution one and eliminating the current hybrid system. While some Republican legislators favored the switch, Kahn has been opposed to it because of the $300 million per year cost to do it. Just switching new hires over would cost school districts an additional $8 to $10 billion over the next 30 years.

Attorney Andrew Nickelhoff details why MI Attorney General Bill Schuette is wrong for attacking working families

Today, the campaign to protect working families responded to  Attorney General Bill Schuette's attempt to deny citizens the opportunity to vote on a ballot proposal to ensure collecitve bargaining rights for Michigan workers. 

In a conference call, legal expert, Andrew Nickelhoff detailed why the people of Michigan deserve a chance to vote and revealed that Schuette's recently released opinion was in direct opposition to stances he's taken in the past.  The opinion offered by Schuette, at the request of Governor Snyder, attempts to prevent Michigan residents from having a voice.  Schuette’s opinion, which is not binding, comes after the Secretary of State’s office shot down an effort by corporate special interests to try and block the proposal.

Collective bargaining brings both sides together to negotiate fair wages and benefits, safer work conditions and protection from arbitrary decisions. It gets firefighters and police life-saving equipment, protects nurses so they can speak up about a patient’s care and limits class sizes so teachers can better educate our kids. 

Nearly 700,000 Michigan residents signed a petition to protect the right to negotiate for fair wages and benefits.  Citizens deserve a chance to vote on the ballot proposal.

See press release .

Vote today--Make a difference

Don't buy into the idea that your vote doesn't count. Your vote is your voice and when we all vote, we send a loud and clear message to politicians and special interest groups who would prefer we stay home tomorrow.

Lists of recommended candidates are available in the Members Only area of www.mea.org. The list represents the voice of MEA members across the state who interviewed the candidates and recommended your support of them because they will stand up for public education, working families and the middle class.

School aid rewrite will change how the pie is sliced

One of Gov. Snyder’s goals in his April 2011 education message was to change how schools are funded and it seems a group he has appointed will help him accomplish that.

Richard McLellan, a former advisor to Gov. John Engler, is leading the group which intends to rewrite the 1979 School Aid Act with the focus on school aid following the student, rather than going to school districts. To accomplish that, the group is determined to make the School Code and the Act work together and incorporate changes that take into consideration “reforms” like unlimited charter schools and cyber schooling. McLellan is a strong supporter of school choice and vouchers. He helped draft the Kids First Yes! ballot proposal in 2000 that would have allowed school vouchers for students who are in supposedly “failing schools.” The proposal was soundly defeated by voters.

In a public hearing last week, McLellan announced the rewrite goal is to “provide more flexibility to families in sending their kids to the school district they wish their child to attend.” The group is getting its inspiration from Snyder’s education message of providing education “any time, any place, any way, any pace.” McLellan doesn’t intend to add any more money to the school aid fund which currently provides $14 billion for education, but instead focus funding based on performance—another item on Snyder’s wish list.

When McLellan took comments from the audience, the theme shifted away from money to how Michigan students are educated. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan, a resource for the group, was joined by others who encouraged the group to consider the design of the current education system and decide what a school should look like.

Senate can’t get its act together on retirement reform

 

Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) and Sen. Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids) tried all day to convince fellow legislators that their plan to shut down the current hybrid system and put all new hires into a defined contribution plan was the logical path to reforming the retirement system.

The new plan also called for a return to retirees paying 20 percent of their premiums instead of the 10 percent the House proposed. And there was no help for paying off the system’s stranded costs caused in part by the privatization of jobs.

Their plan couldn’t get traction with legislators, but then neither did the House’s version (H-3) of SB 1040 which was defeated on a 16-22 vote. The issue now goes to a six-member conference committee appointed by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and House Speaker Jase Bolger.

Every Democrat voted against the bill and was joined by Republican Senators Brandenburg, Colbeck, Hune, Jansen, Jones, Meekhof, Nofs, Pappageorge, Pavlov, and Proos.

SB 1040 rears its ugly head again

When the Legislature returns for one day on July 18, it's expected the Senate will take up the unfinished business of SB 1040. While the House passed its version of the bill, the Senate adjourned on June 14 before taking any action.

The Senate will take up the House version which includes the prefunding of the retirement system, giving new hires the option of a defined contribution plan, and a freezing of the retirement rate for school districts. All along, there have been Senators interested in forcing all new hires into a defined contribution plan, but at issue is the cost of such a move. The House version calls for a study analyzing the cost benefit.

Snyder baits school districts again with more money

The stakes are higher and the "carrot" is less enticing this year, but school districts can still get a $52 per pupil reward for completing seven out of eight of the state’s best practices. Last year, schools got $100 per pupil for jumping through Gov. Snyder’s hoops.

Many of the best practices are the same as last year and include: acting as policy holder for health care benefits; bidding at least one non-instructional service; participating in Schools of Choice; measuring student growth twice a year and reporting to parents or providing MDE with a plan for developing the technology necessary to assess student growth; providing dual enrollment; providing online or blended learning opportunities; providing a dashboard for parents and the community; and providing state Board of Education-approved physical education and health classes.

MME scores report some good news, some not-so-good news

Michigan high school students generally improved over last year in most subject areas of the Michigan Merit Exam (MME)--but if you recalculate previous scores according to our new scoring system--achievement is still low.

The state Department of Education (MDE) adopted the new scoring system in 2010 to better gauge if students are ready for college and careers. Despite the higher cut scores to determine proficiency, most high school juniors scored "proficient" in math, reading, writing and science. The MDE sees the improvement in the latest test scores as a result of the new scoring system.

Students also scored slightly better on the ACT college-entrance exam which is a part of the MME. The composite mean ACT score was 19.6 for 2012, up from 19.4 in 2011.

However, the scores do show a disturbing trend. A significant achievement gaps still exists for minority and low-income students with many leaving high school unprepared for college.

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