Thursday, May 30, 2013

K-12 Budget Fails to Invest, Includes "Vouchers for Vendors"

The House and Senate have passed a K-12 budget which amounts to a net decrease in operating revenue for public schools and includes the harmful "Vouchers for Vendors" provision.

Although the K-12 budget is widely reported to contain a small increase in funding for public schools, much of that increase is directed toward funding MPSERS, a pension plan, and is unavailable for schools operating expenses.  Michigan Parents for Schools calculates this budget is a net 0.9 percent decrease for public schools:
"... overall spending on P-12 is now rising 3.1% compared to revised figures for the current year. However, much of that is going into funding the MPSERS rate cap to local districts (costs that would otherwise have been passed on to districts and wiped out an equivalent amount of per pupil funding increases. The other major increase is Snyder's $65 million bump to Great Start - a worthy program but doesn't help K-12. Most districts were going to see a cut next year until the revenue conference projected more revenue in the current year than expected. They are using about $140 million of this in K-12, and most of that is going to some per-pupil funding increases and restoring various targeted programs which had been cut in earlier drafts. Now, there will be a $30 to $60 per pupil bump via the 2x formula - though at the cost of a reduction in the additional MPSERS "help" offered to districts, making this a net redistribution from local districts to charters (who would almost never qualify for the MPSERS assistance). Moreover, many districts would lose more from the MPSERS offset reductions than they gain in the foundation allowance. There is separate money to make sure that every district ends up with a net increase of $5 per pupil. 
Put another way, the money actually committed to per-pupil funding will increase 0.9% next year compared to last. Nearly all the rest goes to MPSERS prefunding (the cap) and to Great Start expansion, plus some pet projects. $8 million for "student centered learning" is still in there, essentially a gift for the EAA. A million for robotics. More money in performance funding. And so on."  Michigan Parents for Schools Executive Director Steven Norton, May 26, 2013.
The budget also includes the harmful "Vouchers for Vendors" provision which we have written about at length.  We have discussed how this measure will be a syphon on the limited funds our schools can use for operating expenses, "Vouchers for Vendors," what it is, and why you should speak out against it, Okemos Parents for Schools, April 14, 2013, as well as how there are major concerns for the quality of this education, Education Budgets Moving - Vouchers and Disinvestment, Okemos Parents for Schools, April 24, 2013.

This budget also diverted $400 million dollars from the School Aid Fund to community colleges and universities.  Like so many other pursuits of government, these are worthy pursuits, but there is no reason to fund them at the expense of K-12 education.

Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) spoke out against the budget at length:

Senator Whitmer said, in part:
"This is just the latest instance of Republicans pushing to turn our students over to unproven technologies and for-profit entities who have no vested interests in the student success. While we're only being given a glimpse of this in this particular budget bill, the news headlines lately have painted a much broader picture. Simply put, Governor Snyder and legislative Republicans are trying to turn a public education into a private enterprise. At every turn Republicans are attacking out brick and mortar schools and our flesh-and-blood educators. Republicans are more comfortable in trusting our kids to a computer than a teacher, and Republicans want to put schools in the hands of a corporate CEO instead of a superintendent."
Senator Morris Hood III (D-Detroit), Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor), and Senator Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park) also spoke out against the budget.  The budget passed largely along party lines, 25-12, in the Senate with all Democrats opposing the bill.  Senator Rick Jones, (R-Eaton) was the lone Republican to vote against the bill.  Sen. Jones had previously pledged to oppose "Vouchers for Vendors" to Okemos Parents for Schools. Response from Action on "Vouchers for Vendors." Okemos Parents for Schools, May 14, 2013.

In the House, the bill passed largely along party lines as well, 65-43.  Eight Democrats voted for the budget,Reps. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge), Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) Tom Cochran (D-Mason), Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) John Kivela (D-Marquette) Collene Lamonte (D-Montague) and Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights), and two Republicans voted against it, Reps. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) and Bob Genetski (R-Saugatuck).

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cyber charter set to open in Okemos

A cyber charter school is set to open in Okemos in the Fall, one of 32 new charters statewide.  While cyber charters have come under heavy criticism for recruiting tactics such as giving away gift cards and electronics to recruit students, Great Lakes Cyber School is promising a computer and subsidy payment to each student.  This money will come directly out of the operating budget of the public school district each student lives in.

The new cyber charter, Great Lakes Cyber School, is possible after last year's uncapping of charter schools and seems set to recruit students, and public funding, from Okemos, East Lansing, Haslett, and surrounding districts as well as statewide. Its website promises:
Great Lakes Cyber Academy families will receive one desktop computer and monitor per household. Each eligible household will also receive an internet subsidy while actively enrolled. Payments are made three times a year: December, March, and June. Families not enrolled for the entire payment period will receive a pro-rated payment. Subsidies are not available during the summer months. Great Lakes Cyber Academy (last accessed May 26, 2013).
K12 Inc., which operates in Michigan, is embroiled in a lawsuit after billing for students who were no longer using its services.  The lawsuit was filed by K12 Inc.'s own shareholders.  Ex-workers claim cyber-charter operator manipulated enrollment figures,, Jan. 22, 2013.  As we previously discussed, Louisiana has been rife with fraud from online charter companies.  Push to stop "Vouchers for Vendors." Okemos Parents for Schools, May 23, 2013

Non-partisan education advocacy group Education Trust-Midwest, which supports the concept of charter schools, condemned the expansion of Michigan charters noting that operators who are operating failing schools in Michigan are opening even more charters. 
Amber Arellano, the group's executive director, said in the statement that while the group supports high-quality charter schools, the group is concerned by some of the operators in charge of the schools. "Too many of the new charter schools opening are run by operators who are failing to do right by our parents and students," Arellano said. Education advocacy group slams operators of some new charter schools, MLive, May 24, 2013.
Michigan law relies on operating companies, which may be for-profit, and authorizing charter entities to oversee cyber charters.  A vast array of entities are able to charter schools.  One of Michigan's largest charter authorizers is Bay Mills Community College, a small Upper Peninsula community college.

While supporters of online K-12 education argue it can extend opportunities to students in rural areas, Great Lakes Cyber Schools' published recruiting schedule is focused on urban areas with comprehensive public school systems such as East Lansing, Troy, Ann Arbor, and Lansing.  Great Lakes Cyber Schools, (last accessed May 26, 2013).

As several news outlets have reported, 32 new charter schools are set to open in Michigan in the fall.  Other Lansing-area charters set to open in the Fall are International Academy of Lansing, a K-2 chartered by Grand Valley State University, and Macomb Montessori Academy-Lansing, a K-6 chartered by Lake Superior State University.  LifeTech Academy, a 9-12 cyber charter authorized by Eaton Rapids Public Schools will open in Eaton Rapids.  MLive has the complete list.

With 276 charter schools already operating, according to the Detroit News, Michigan has one of the highest number in the country.  The number of charters in Michigan has climbed rapidly in recent years.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Push to stop "Vouchers for Vendors"

As we have discussed before, the School Aid Budget for this year has passed the House and the Senate with a harmful measure we have referred to as "Vouchers for Vendors."  This measure will force public schools to pay for and give credit for online classes for grades 5-12 with no oversight.  We have discussed how this measure will be a syphon on the limited funds our schools can use for operating expenses, "Vouchers for Vendors," what it is, and why you should speak out against it, Okemos Parents for Schools, April 14, 2013, as well as how there are major concerns for the quality of this education, Education Budgets Moving - Vouchers and Disinvestment, Okemos Parents for Schools, April 24, 2013.  Now, a small committee of lawmakers is tasked with reconciling the bills and they have the power to take out "Vouchers for Vendors."  You can act by contacting these lawmakers directly, or by using a handy tool set up by Michigan Parents for Schools.
If you want to contact them directly, they are:

  • Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, Dist 42,  State Representative    
  • Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, Dist 75,  State Representative
  • Rep. Philip Potvin, R-Cadillac, Dist 102,  State Representative
  • Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, Dist 8,  State Senator
  • Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, Dist 37,  State Senator
  • Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Twp, Dist 32,  State Senator

There is also an entirely different aspect to why "Vouchers for Vendors" is terrible policy we have not addressed - the ease with which this system is defrauded. In Louisiana, they already have this program and they call it "Course Choice." It's the same thing.  If online providers can sign kids up, the school has to pay and has no ability to oversee the courses.  So, online providers recruit kids by offering them a free iPad.  This situation is bad enough ... but in Louisiana, at least one company appears to just be signed up 1,100 kids, collected the fee, and the kids knew nothing about it:
"... An outfit named FastPath Learning of Austin, Texas, has somehow managed to obtain student information to sign up the students without the knowledge of the student or of their parents.
Tuition for the courses ranges from $700 to $1,275 each and providers get one-half of their tuition fees up front upon registering students for courses. The second half is paid when a student successfully completes a course and the course providers have full autonomy in making the determination of when—or if—a student completes a course. The incentive to the provider, of course, is to have as many students as possible “complete” the courses.
Fox, welcome to the hen house.
The tuition is free to the student with the state picking up the tab. Students also receive a free iPad upon registering. There was no word if the 1,100 students who were unknowingly registered received iPads. ..." Course Choice provider who enrolled 1100 students without their knowledge tied to Bush, Romney, Tex. dropout scandal, Louisiana Voice, May 16, 2013.
Another story discusses an attempt to sign up a first grade student for high school Latin, recruiters who go door-to-door signing up kids, and pay for sales staff of up to $75,000 in six months.  More sordid details emerging in apparent fraudulent Course Choice registrations in three northwest Louisiana parishes, Louisiana Voice, May 20, 2013.

Please contact lawmakers and stop this from coming to Michigan.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Q and A: Ron Styka, Meridian Township Trustee

We are very pleased to bring you a Q and A with Meridian Township Trustee Ron Styka. Trustee Styka has been a resident of Meridian Township since 1978. Trustee Styka is an attorney who served as an Assistant Attorney General for close to 40 years, and served on the Okemos School Board for 22 years. Trustee Styka was elected to the Township Board in 2012. He has dedicated his life to public service. Trustee Styka answered these questions via email.

Q: What are some of the biggest changes to Michigan’s K-12 system you’ve seen over your years of involvement with public education?

A: The “Proposal A” System of State Funding of our public schools, which began in 1994, was the biggest change to Michigan’s K-12 system during my tenure on the Okemos School Board (1990-2012). Prior to Prop A, the voters within a school district determined the level of funding. One large negative of the old system was that funding varied radically from district to district. And Michigan was replete with both “rich districts” and “poor districts,” providing very different educations to students. The voter approved property tax funding system was common throughout the nation, and courts had begun to find the resultant disparities to be unconstitutionally unequal. Although no court challenge was pending, Michigan chose to voluntarily change to a less unequal state-based funding system.

At first Prop A seemed to be a positive for Michigan’s schools. However, as Michigan’s economy eroded and, as a result, sales and other state taxes produced less revenue, the legislature stopped fully funding public school districts. Indeed, funds that were dedicated by the law to be spent on K-12 public schools under Prop A were often spent by the State on other “educational” purposes.

All of this has resulted in severe cuts to educational programs in virtually all school districts throughout the State. In Okemos, for example, the numbers of counselors, librarians, co-curricular activities, and many enhancement programs have been reduced. The District has been forced to turn to the private non-profit Okemos Education Foundation to fund school clubs and even textbook purchases. After 8 or 9 years of major budget cuts, there is literally nothing left to cut but educational programs that directly benefit the students in the classroom.

Q: Would you say the changes being discussed in Lansing now like proposed 21f and the things coming out of the “skunk works” group are dramatic changes or tweaks to the system?

A: In my opinion, the changes being proposed in Lansing will completely undermine the public school system in Michigan. To the extent that some school districts are not providing the highest quality educational services to their students, the root cause is lack of funds. School districts spend roughly 80% of their revenue on personnel. These personnel are the educational professionals that care about our students and use their professional expertise to educate them. Our colleges and universities train educators to provide individualized educations that reach students in the unique way that each student learns. These professionals deserve a professional wage. Legislative ignorance of current classroom techniques and demands on our educators has resulted in a callous attitude when it comes to funding schools. Legislators often have the mistaken view that teachers are “part-time” workers and that educating a student is easy to do. They mistakenly think that anyone with knowledge of a subject can teach it, ignoring the need for an educator to know how to teach diverse students, who learn in different ways and at different paces.

It is similarly a huge mistake to think that online learning, without the direct supervision and assistance of a professional educator is a panacea that will reduce educational costs and increase performance. A curriculum must not only be developed, but must be tailored to the student, not in a general sense, but in an ongoing basis. Similarly, diverting funds to corporately created educational institutions only reduces funds available for our public schools at a time when every dollar counts.

Q: We hear about cuts to per pupil funding from the state in the news, but aren’t Okemos Public Schools able to make up the difference with local funding?

A: Under Proposal A school districts are NOT permitted add locally produced and approved funding to the funding provided by the State. The periodic millage elections that we hear about are required under Proposal A and are uniform for all districts. Further the 6 mills that must be periodically approved do not go to the local district, but directly to the State treasury.

There are two types of millages that can be used to supplement a district’s budget in very limited ways. First, district voters can approve a “Sinking Fund” (or building and site fund), which can only be used for specific building and physical plant maintenance items. This can help a district, in that it reduces the demand on the district’s general fund and frees moneys up for spending on instruction. However, while helpful, these are generally small in amount. Second, district voters can approve bonds for construction of buildings or the purchase of technology. These also have a secondary and relatively small impact on a district’s budget.

Q: A lot of the changes being discussed seem to talk about “choice.” What’s wrong with offering parents and students choices in terms of online classes and other options?

A: “Choice” sounds a lot better than it is in reality. For close to 20 years now parents have had the opportunity to send their students to a district other than their home district—the “schools of choice” program. The idea is that poor performing districts will lose students to high performing districts. Somehow, having fewer high quality dedicated students, with parents dedicated to getting their children the best possible education, is supposed to result in the poor performing district improving. The logic fails on its face. It not only does not work, it cannot work. Instead, poor performing districts have been losing some of their best students to neighboring districts. Unfortunately, it is these students and their parents who are the natural drivers of improvement. But they are no longer in the district.

A second “choice” program that has failed to-date is the charter school program. Under this reform idea, schools are created, usually by corporations, to compete with the public schools. Again, somehow losing the best students and their parents to a charter school is supposed to incentivize a public school system to improve, even though the drivers of improvement are now at the competing charter school. It has not worked. Further, these for-profit (even if in the guise of a non-profit) charter schools have been riddled with financial scandal and have not performed as well as traditional public schools.

Q: What kind of school system could you run with $5,000 per student like the Governor’s “skunk works” group is talking about?

A: A school system funded at $5000 per student would likely look as follows: No co-curriculars, no physical education, no music, no art, no AP classes, no honors classes, out-of-date texts, little or no technology, no busses to transport students, large class sizes, no individualized education. It would have shorter school days and fewer school days per year.

Q: If a plan like the “skunk works” plan were implemented, what do you think Michigan K-12 would look like in 10 years? 20 years?

A: In 10 years, there would be no high performing public schools left. This year Okemos High has been ranked third in the State and in the top 1% nationally. There would be no hope of any public school performing well under the “skunk works” plan.

In 20 years, public schools would be attended only by the most economically underprivileged students, and they would receive only a basic education. Those with the financial wherewithal to transport their student to the better “choice” schools would do so. Those with the ability to afford private schools would do so. The promise of the Michigan Constitution of a free education for all Michigan’s children would be semantics and nothing else.

Q: Some people think the expansion of charters and cyber schools are really about privatizing public education. What do you think?

A: I firmly believe that the charter school movement and the cyber school movements are aimed squarely at privatizing education.

Q: This seems to be playing out along party lines in the Legislature. Do you think these measures are consistent with conservative principles like local control? Do you see this as a partisan issue?

A: Ironically, the “skunk works” plans are antithetical to true conservative principles, like local control. In fact, the inability for a community to decide on the amount it is willing to spend on its own schools and on the level of its own school tax are also contrary to traditional conservatism.

Excellent public schools should not be a partisan issue. Anti-unionism has led to a partisan split on public school funding and program support. True conservatives, who prefer local control, need to speak out within their political party and take the politics out of K-12 education.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Response from action on "Vouchers for Vendors"

On April 16 we asked people receiving our email alerts to take action and contact lawmakers regarding "Vouchers for Vendors."  This provision was tucked into the School Aid Budgets, but had nothing to do with yearly funding.  Rather, it will force every public school in Michigan into issuing vouchers for two online classes per semester for any student in grades 5-12.  This provision is found in section 21f of the Senate bill, SB 0182, and section 21f of the House bill, HB 4228

We discussed two rationales to object to this measure.  First, on the funding side, we discussed how public schools are already forced to use only the state's per pupil allowance to fund operating expenses, and how this will be a long-term syphon on this already critically stretched revenue.  Okemos Parents for Schools, "Vouchers for Vendors," what it is and why you should speak out against it, April 14, 2013. Second, on the quality side, we discussed how public schools will have no ability to ensure the quality of these online classes or monitor student achievement.  Okemos Parents for Schools, Education Budgets Moving - Vouchers and Disinvestment, April 24, 2013.

We were pleased with the number of parents who took the time to email.  We were also pleased with response from lawmakers we reached out to.  State Representatives Sam Singh (D) and Andy Schor (D) both responded that they voted against "Vouchers for Vendors" and will continue to oppose it.  State Senator Rick Jones (R) also responded that he voted against "Vouchers for Vendors" and will continue to oppose it.  Sen. Jones also gave us permission to reproduce his response, which is posted below (we added the bold and underline emphasis):
Dear [Parent]:
Thank you for contacting my office regarding the challenges facing our education system. I agree that the education of our youth is of the upmost importance and should be treated as such. As a state legislator, I have prided myself in putting children and families first. My voting record during my tenure in the legislature is evident of my belief that adequately funding education is a key component of putting children first. 
I recently voted against the SB 182, the School Aid Budget bill. I want to see a budget that will provide our kids with an education they deserve, and I did not see that in SB 182. There needs to be more funding allocated to our K-12 system and to follow the intension of Proposal A. 
I do not support expanding the EAA; with the current funding allotted to this I fear that its practices will encroach into our public schools, which I don't view as a viable practice for all school districts.  Our students' education is too valuable to be sold to the highest bidder, which is why I am hesitant toward allowing a voucher to vendor system where our educators would not be at the forefront of instructing from the Michigan Merit CurriculumFrom what I understand of the "Skunk Works" project, I am against its secretive practice and do not believe that it should have an earmark within the education budget without the public knowing what it is trying to accomplish. I am on your side in the fight for our children's quality education and I will continue on this path to ensure our youths' futures. 
Recently, I introduced two Senate Joint Resolutions (SJR) which I hope will strengthen our education system. SJR H and SJR I would restore the original intent of Proposal A. SJR H would require that school aid money must stay in K-12 funding.  SJR I would require that all schools must have equal funding per pupil gradually within ten years. I truly hope that with SJR H and SJR I, funding that belongs to our children will rightfully be allocated to their education. We need to right the wrongs of the past that have tarnished the School Aid Fund (SAF) and provide for the success of our youth. 
I have also introduced SB 119, legislation that could provide school districts with a reimbursement of 50 cents per mile for student transportation. The cost of transportation to ensure our children can attend school is great for most schools around the state, and within our district. I want as much funding to stay in classroom as possible to guarantee the best education we can provide for our children.
Thank you again for sharing your concerns. 
Rick Jones
State Senator
District 24

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gas Tax Change / Okemos Student in Michigan 2020 finals / Your Feedback

More on the Gas Tax - Act Wednesday, May 8
Our last post dealt with a plan to divert K-12 funding to pay for roads.  We don't oppose funding road repair.  We do oppose funding road repair by taking away from K-12 education.  Smaller parts of this package moved out of committee today, the rest is expected to move tomorrow.

Remember, the gist of this legislation is to change the type of tax on gas from a sales tax (which has a portion dedicated to K-12 education), to a wholesale tax (which does not go to K-12 education).

MIRS reported:
The committee voted along party lines, 9-6, this afternoon to report HB 4571 and HB 4572 to the House floor. Together, the bills would levy a new wholesale tax on aviation fuel and then, would exempt aviation fuel from the state's sales tax.
The committee has discussed -- but not acted on -- a similar plan for fuel for cars and trucks. Supporters of the idea of exempting fuel from the sales tax believe the taxes people pay on powering their vehicles should go back in to transportation needs. . . .
However, school organizations, local government groups and Democratic lawmakers spoke out against the bills today, because at least so far, the bills don't include a replacement mechanism for the revenue lost through exempting aviation fuel from the sales tax. . . .
While the House Fiscal Agency hasn't yet provided specific details on what that loss may be for exempting aviation fuel, committee members threw out estimates of $55 million for education and $12 million for local government revenue sharing. [MIRS, May 7, 2013]
Eclectablog noted that the eventual plan seems to be to later force voters to pay an increased sales tax to replace the money taken away from K-12 by this move:
That’s where they have attempted to pull a fast one.
Increasing the state sales tax requires Michiganders to vote for it and only after it receives super-majority (2/3) votes in both the House and the Senate. They are going to eliminate $770.1 million from the schools and hope and pray that Michigan voters see fit to increase the sales tax. Again. And this doesn’t fill the part of the hole created by eliminating the sales tax on aviation fuel, by the way.
A sales tax is one the most regressive taxes we have. The more poor you are, the greater a percentage of your budget goes to sales taxes. [Michigan Republicans aiming to carve another $770 million from schools to pay for road/bridge repairs, Eclectablog, May 7, 2013.]
There is still time to stop this.  Eclectablog provided three ways to take action:
  1. Click HERE to go to a page with contact information for your legislators. MAKE THE CALL!
  2. Click HERE to send a message to your legislator via the Michigan Parents for Schools website.
  3. Click HERE to send a message via the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education.
Okemos High Senior Sydney Barosko in Michigan 2020 Finals!
Sydney Barosko, Senior at Okemos HS, is a finalist for the Michigan 2020 Plan Scholarship video competition and could use your vote. The MI2020 Plan was put forth by Senate Dems as a way to fund higher education for middle class families.  Watch her video entry, and vote for Sydney here

Tell Us How We Are Doing, What Else the Group Can Do
The email which corresponds to this blog post contains a link to a survey on how the group is functioning and what else the group can do.  If you would like to take the survey, please emails to be added to our mailing list.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Changing the Gas Tax Will Cost K-12 $500 Per Pupil

Structural Funding - Changing the Gas Tax
School funding has been caught up in Gov. Snyder's road proposal, and the House is considering measures which would take $750 million dollars per year out of the school aid fund.  That comes out to about $500 per pupil which would be taken from public schools. This is an extremely significant number.

HB 4539 and HB 4572 would exempt gasoline from sales tax, but make it subject to a wholesale tax. At first, this seems like a zero-sum game - removing one tax but adding another.  However, the wholesale tax would go entirely to pay for road repair/improvement, while a large part of the sales tax goes to fund K-12 education.  By switching the type of tax levied on gas at the pump, these bills would effect another massive cut to K-12 funding.

This would do long-term damage to K-12 funding.  As we have said before, we take great care about asking you to take action.  Although this is a clear danger to our schools, we aren't calling for an Okemos Parents for Schools direct response.  However, Michigan Parents for Schools has called for action, and they have an easy to use tool which will submit an email on you behalf.  If you have the time, we recommend contacting lawmakers.
Future of Education on HOMTV
HOMTV's "Open Line" tackled the future of Michigan education Thursday.  The panel included State Representative Sam Singh (D), Okemos parent Brett DeGroff, The Center for Michigan's Amber Toth, and Ingham County Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel Jr. (D) (also an announced candidate for state senate in 2014).

The lively conversation tackled many aspects of the current legislative debate with an emphasis on funding.  Rep. Singh discussed how the charter school movement has diverged from charters being extensions of public education.  Brett DeGroff discussed how the "Public Vision" of education, and the "Voucher Vision" of education are vying to define Michigan Schools.  Amber Toth discussed many aspects of the Center for Michigan's recent statewide survey.  Register of Deeds Hertel discussed how the current legislative debate is prioritizing corporate profits over people.
Michigan State Board of Education Future of Education Forum
We would like to remind you once more that the Okemos Parent Council Legislative Committee and the Michigan Sandbox Party are happy to welcome members of the State Board of Education to the mid-Michigan area for a community forum on education issues at the local and state level. The members of this panel are among the most knowledgeable in the state on these issues.  This is an outstanding opportunity to learn more about these issues, and connect with others who are concerned.

Date: Thursday, May 16th
Time: 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
Location: Chippewa Middle School, 4000 N. Okemos Rd., Okemos, 48864
  • John Austin, President Michigan State Board of Education (confirmed)
  • Lupe Ramos-Montigny, State Board of Education (confirmed)
  • Steve Norton, Executive Director of Michigan Parents for Schools (confirmed)
  • Dr. Vickie Markavitch, Superintendent Oakland ISD (confirmed)
  • Stanley Kogut, Superintendent Ingham ISD (confirmed)
We need volunteers the evening of the forum to help direct people to seats and at the information table where we will have some handouts for those who would like more information on education topics. Having people there to help find seats will be more welcoming to our guests and will help ensure the forum runs smoothly by helping people find seats faster as the auditorium fills.
Please contact us at if you would like to volunteer or if you have any questions.

We Know How to Fix Michigan's Troubled Schools, Make Them Like Michigan's High Performing Schools
Discussions about education in American and education in Michigan often start with the premise that our education system generally is broken.  This premise is wrong.

Most often, the evidence cited to support this premise is the United States' ranking compared to other countries.  As discussed in a recent Washington Post story, you can cut those numbers a lot of different ways.  There are numbers you can cherry pick which make the United States look bad, just are there are numbers you can pick which make the United States look good.  But, it turns out, looking at education in the United States generally isn't meaningful because it doesn't account for the vast disparity by socioeconomic status:
Rich American kids do fine; poor American kids don’t.  It’s ridiculous to offer a summary statistic for all children at a given grade level in light of the enormous variation in scores within this country.  To do so is roughly analogous to proposing an average pollution statistic for the United States that tells us the cleanliness of “American air.”  Test scores are largely a function of socioeconomic status.  Our wealthier students perform very well when compared to other countries; our poorer students do not.  And we have a lot more poor children than do other industrialized nations.  One example, supplied by Linda Darling-Hammond:  “In 2009 U.S. schools with fewer than 10 percent of students in poverty ranked first among all nations on PISA tests in reading, while those serving more than 75 percent of students in poverty scored alongside nations like Serbia, ranking about fiftieth.” “We’re Number Umpteenth!”: The myth of lagging U.S. schools, Washington Post, May 3, 2013.
There are two big takeaways from this.  First, most Michigan schools don't need "reform," or added "choice," or "unbundling." They are already doing a great job.  Second, the problem with Michigan schools which are struggling isn't with the schools, it's with the poverty of the children the school serves. So even in these schools, the answer isn't radical reforms.  The answer is to address the underlying poverty and help make the struggling schools more like our excellent schools. 

Of course, addressing the underlying poverty, whatever that means, isn't an easy thing to do.  But making tweaks in the classroom and replacing teachers with computers isn't the answer either.  And the more time and resources we spend on foolishness like "unbundling," the less time and resources we have to do the really hard work that needs to be done to help these schools and the communities they serve.

At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes--an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. - Carl Sagan