Legislators debate more education ‘reforms’ before election break

We won’t see much action from the Legislature until after the Nov. 6 election, but before they left, they did some work on bills affecting education.

In June, the Senate passed SB 620 which opened up the state to more charter schools. There is a section of the bill which calls for persistently struggling schools to be offered to charter school management companies if at least 60 percent of parents agree to it, or if 60 percent of teachers want it and 50 percent of parents agree. The House Education Committee is taking testimony on the bill. 

SB 620 is being called the “Parent Trigger Bill” after similar legislation passed in California. Supporters, like Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, claim that such a law gives parents real power over their children’s education. Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, Indiana and Mississippi have similar laws, and at least 15 other states—like Michigan—are considering such legislation. The trend is also the subject of the newly-released movie, “Won’t Back Down.”

Under SB 620, parents and staff of a school in the lowest performing 5 percent of state schools could also petition for one of three turnaround options included in federal school improvement grants: adopting new teaching strategies, removing the principal and a portion of the staff, or shutting down the school.

While Senate Education Committee Chair Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) called this a way of “helping students who are trapped in a failing school,” opponents like the MEA and the Michigan Association of School Boards point out that the state already has a plan in place to help with struggling schools.

Rep. Holly Hughes (R-White River Township) has introduced legislation that would allow retired teachers to come back as substitutes in their former school district without jeopardizing their pensions.

HB 5261 would also allow substitutes to work for private companies, a provision in the bill which MEA opposes. The private companies would not be paying into the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System which is already dealing with such stranded costs.

Legislation requiring every public school classroom to have a United States flag is on its way to the Governor for his signature after being approved by the House and the Senate. While the House also passed legislation requiring schools to provide opportunities for students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the Senate has not. 

Considering the cuts to education this year have left schools struggling to provide classroom resources, this unfunded mandate seems more of a politically-motivated measure in an election year than a necessity. 

A policy, not a law, went into effect this week. Parents whose children don’t attend school could lose welfare benefits under a new policy by the Michigan Department of Human Services. Children ages six to 15 would have to attend school full time to keep their family eligible for benefits.

Students who have 10 or more unexcused absences per school year are considered truant. More than 93,000 students were considered truant in the 2011-12 school year.