Hyper-partisanship leads to House passage of EAA bill

The overly partisan atmosphere in the Michigan Capitol led to the state House narrowly passing legislation yesterday to expand the Education Achievement Authority — without protections for students, teachers and education support staff.

House Bill 4369, which passed by a 57-53 margin, allows the EAA to take over up to 50 public schools across the state that are deemed to be in the state's bottom 5 percent — without so much as conducting an educational audit to determine the specific problems facing the schools in question. The EAA would also be allowed to create new charter schools within two miles of a so-called "failing" school.

In addition, public school employees transferred to EAA schools would lose their collective bargaining rights. An amendment to the bill late Thursday allows current school employees hired by an EAA school to remain members of the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System – but new EAA employees would not be in the system.

Another amendment to the original bill would institute a sliding cap on EAA schools. The bill passed by the House authorizes the existence of 27 EAA schools beginning July 1 of this year. The cap would rise to 37 on July 1, 2014, and reach the maximum of 50 beginning July 1, 2015.

Finally, the House added a provision to House Bill 4369 that allows intermediate school districts to intervene in place of the EAA and carry out the same functions. However, the EAA would still hold supreme authority and could take a school over from an intermediate school district.

MEA’s lobbying team worked with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers to draft other amendments to House Bill 4369 that would have drastically improved the bill and protected students, communities and school employees. Representatives Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township, and David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, worked extensively with MEA staff on these issues, as well as with the leadership of the two caucuses, Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, and Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills.

However, the extreme partisan environment in Lansing didn’t allow for the two sides to compromise over the common sense changes MEA was promoting.

As action now moves to the Senate, MEA will continue to advocate for amendments to HB 4369 that address these specific problems with the EAA:

  • Require schools in the bottom 5 percent to undergo independent education audits prior to being subjected to an EAA takeover. This will provide local school staff and leaders with an independent, expert viewpoint that identifies and addresses specific issues. The legislation passed by the House does not require these audits.
  • Maintain collective bargaining rights for EAA school employees, and allow them to retain their rights and seniority when transferred back to a traditional school. House Bill 4369 currently bars teachers and support staff at EAA schools from engaging in collective bargaining, and allows for the wholesale transfer and termination of employees that would normally be handled through negotiations.
  • Ensure that all EAA employees will continue to be part of MPSERS. This would save taxpayers money by keeping more contributions going to the system from individuals and employers, helping to stabilize the pension fund. Otherwise, the state will continue to see increases in unfunded liabilities – a problem lawmakers worked last year to correct.

"MEA has always been committed to helping struggling schools, and that must be centered on working together to get the job done while protecting both the students and the employees dedicated to educating them,” MEA President Steve Cook said. “We will continue to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to find a common solution that protects students, taxpayers and school employees.”