Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Public funds for private schools

The state budget which went into effect October 1 allocates $2.5 million to fund private schools.  Regardless of whether this is a wise policy choice, it clearly violates the Michigan Constitution. Governor Snyder recognize the dubious legality of the measure when he signed it, but said he would let the matter be litigated. Now the Michigan Supreme Court has declined to issue an advisory opinion, clearing the way for a lawsuit.

The budget's multi-million dollar allocation of public funds to private schools is meant to be a reimbursement for state-mandated requirements such as background checks for employees, immunizations and even compliance with building, health and fire codes. 

The Michigan Constitution seems to, in no uncertain terms, prohibit this funding:
No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. [1963 Const, Art 8, § 2.]
Governor Snyder acknowledged as much in signing the budget: "With respect to the non-public piece of this bill, it's to address mandates put on by the state.  There are some potential legal issues associated with that . . . but I thought it was appropriate to move ahead and then address the legal question."  Detroit Free Press, June 28, 2016.

The Governor then asked the Michigan Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of the measure.  In such a proceeding, rather than having an adversarial process where a challenger can argue against the constitutionality and the state could defend it, the court may simply opine without the benefit of argument.  Or, as happened early in Governor Snyder's first term, the Attorney General may present both sides to the court.  However, the court declined the governor's request for an advisory opinion Oct. 5.  Detroit Free Press, Oct. 5, 2016

The governor's spokesman opined that payments now should proceed to private institutions. Id. That process is likely to proceed unless a lawsuit is filed.

SBE adopts voluntary guidlines to support LGBTQ students

The State Board of Education adopted voluntary guidelines aimed at creating a supportive environment for LGBTQ students on September 14. 

A 2015 survey found that 8.4 percent of Michigan students identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.  Those students were more than twice as likely to threatened or injured with a weapon on school property than non-LGB peers, and more than twice as likely to skip school because they feel unsafe.  Forty-one percent report being bullied on school property. 

LGB students are 4.5 times as likely to attempt suicide.

The guidelines are part of the State Board of Education's commitment to "promoting a safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environment for all students and ensuring that every student has equal access to educational programs and activities."  State Board of Education Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students.

The document really has two parts, the SBE's best practices, and a list of recommendations to comply with federal law.  The best practices are the SBE's recommendations to districts regarding how districts can provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students.  They are voluntary.  The recommendations are not enforced by the SBE or the State of Michigan.  However, the SBE recommends districts comply in order to comply with recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights and their interpretation of federal law.

The SBE's best practices include:
  • Adopting and implementing policies protecting students from harassment, violence, and discrimination for any reason including based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identify, and / or gender expression.
  • Provide professional development opportunities on issues affecting LGBTQ students to district staff and board members.
  • Support formation of clubs such as Gay-Straight Alliances or Gender and Sexuality Alliances in middle in and high schools.
  • Designate a building-level staff member who is conversant in issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

The recommendations to comply with federal law include:
  • "Names and Pronouns. When requested by the parent/guardian and/or student, school staff should engage in reasonable and good faith efforts to address students by their chosen name and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity. . . ."
  • "Student Records. When requested, schools should engage in reasonable and good faith efforts to change current unofficial student records (e.g., class and team rosters, yearbooks, school newspapers, and newsletters) with the chosen name and appropriate gender markers to promote consistency . . ."
  • Privacy and Confidentiality Regarding Disclosures
  • Gender-Segregated Activities and Facilities.  The gist of this recommendation is that students should be able to use the facilities and participate in the activities consistent with their identity.
    • Further, any student should be given access to single-user restrooms if they have a desire for increased privacy.  Also, any student who has a desire for increased privacy regarding locker rooms and changing facilities should be able to request options such as 1) adjusted schedule, 2) use of a private area in the facility, 3) use of a private area nearby the facility.
    • Students should be able to participate in the interscholastic sport in accordance with their gender identity.  However, participation in interscholastic events is ultimately likely to be governed by the MHSAA.

"Read or Flunk" is law

Lawmakers have been pursuing a third-grade reading retention bill, also called "read or flunk" by some, for years.  It has finally become law.

Governor Snyder signed the legislation Oct. 6.  The new law will require schools to hold back third graders who are more than a year behind in reading.  The law does contain exceptions:
Not all third-graders who are behind would be held back, though. The new law allows parents to request an exemption to allow their child to move on to the fourth grade.
And there would be exemptions for a student who is new to a school and hasn't yet had time to catch up. [Detroit Free Press, Oct. 6, 2016.]
Snyder tried to downplay the centerpiece of the reading retention bill--the retention:
"Many people will view this as a third-grade issue or a promotion issue," Snyder said after the ceremony. "It's much broader than that. This needs to be about pre-K through 3 reading, and it needs to be about all the positive tools ... to help these young people be successful." [, Oct. 6, 2016.]

Children will have three methods of demonstrating their proficiency in order to move on to fourth grade: "Through Michigan's state standardized test, an alternative assessment, or multiple work samples that show competency on all third-grade English language art standards." 

We have written about this bill repeatedly:
It's terrible policy, and terrible law.