Contents of this issue:
  • New Detroit schools reform plan criticized by local senators
  • State seeks competition for teacher health insurance
  • Students fail tests, still promoted to higher grades
  • Court strikes down Colorado voucher law
  • Detroit audit uncovers missing funds
  • COMMENTARY: Vouchers needed in South Carolina

NEW DETROIT SCHOOLS REFORM PLAN CRITICIZED BY LOCAL SENATORS
DETROIT, Mich. — When asked whether they would support a new plan to reorganize the leadership of Detroit's schools, four out of five state senators from the Detroit area said they would not. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick introduced the plan last week as a re-election strategy, which would give the mayor the power to hire and fire the chief executive officer of the Detroit Public Schools. The plan would also limit the power of the local school board to reviewing budgets, monitoring student performance and evaluating the CEO, while the CEO would be in charge of daily operations. No other Michigan school board is so limited, according to the Detroit News.

Detroit-area state senators say they are opposed to the plan because state officials promised in 1999 a full return to an empowered and elected school board by 2004. Last week, Kilpatrick agreed to let Detroit voters decide whether they would support his plan or return to a traditional elected school board with full powers.

SOURCES:
Detroit News, "Detroit senators oppose school bid," Dec. 9, 2003
http://www.detnews.com/2003/schools/0312/09/c08-345603.htm

Detroit News, "Most Detroit senators don't like schools' bill," Dec. 8, 2003
http://www.detnews.com/2003/schools/0312/09/schools-344587.htm

Michigan Education Report, "Compromise Gives Archer Control of Detroit Schools," Spring 1999
http://www.mackinac.org/1678


STATE SEEKS COMPETITION FOR TEACHER HEALTH INSURANCE
LANSING, Mich. — State representatives began debate last week on a bill to force statewide competition for teacher health care in a market dominated by the Michigan Education Social Services Association (MESSA).

The bill, introduced by Rep. Barb Vander Veen, R-Allendale, would force MESSA to make available claims histories for local districts so other insurance companies could make competitive bids for teacher health insurance. Currently, "school boards' hands are tied" in trying to save money on health insurance, said Vander Veen.

Opponents of the bill say that the competition would be unfair towards MESSA's risk management strategy, which is finely spread across its broad spectrum of healthy and unhealthy members.

Frank Webster, a health care consultant and former director of MESSA, supports the bill. "If you put competition into the system, there's no question prices would come down," he told the Muskegon Chronicle.

SOURCES:
Muskegon Chronicle, "Competition sought for teacher health insurance," Dec. 3, 2003
http://www.mlive.com/news/muchronicle/index.ssf?/base/news-3/ 1070486187267870.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, MEA Abuses Public School Health Care Funds, Aug. 7, 2001
http://www.mackinac.org/9404

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MSU School Finance Study Too Narrow to Support Tax Hike Recommendation," December 2003
http://www.mackinac.org/5974

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," November 1993
http://www.mackinac.org/8

Michigan Privatization Report, "Ensuring Insurance Competition," September 1998
http://www.mackinac.org/667


STUDENTS FAIL TESTS, STILL PROMOTED TO HIGHER GRADES
RALEIGH, N.C. — A plan to hold back students who fail state assessment tests in North Carolina was not effective, according to a report to the state's school board.

The plan was formulated four years ago after the North Carolina school board found that too many weak students were being automatically promoted to the next grade, independent of their performance. Yet, following the plan's implementation, two-thirds of the state's third-graders who failed state tests still were promoted to fourth grade. Over 80 percent of fifth- and eighth-graders who failed were promoted, as well.

Since legislation passed in 2001, schools aren't required to retain students that fail the tests, but are urged to look at other variables in each student's case that may allow passage. Even so, some officials say the program has been successful in identifying some children in need of academic assistance.

SOURCES:
Raleigh News and Observer, "Students fail state tests, still move up," Dec. 3, 2003
http://newsobserver.com/news/story/3099879p-2811937c.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Outcome-Based Education: Miracle Cure or Plague?" September 1995
http://www.mackinac.org/240


COURT STRIKES DOWN COLORADO VOUCHER LAW
DENVER, Colo. — A court ruled Wednesday that a new Colorado voucher law is unconstitutional because it strips local school boards of control over education.

The law is the nation's first since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that found a Cincinnati voucher program to be constitutional. "I see no way to interpret the voucher program statute in a way that does not run afoul of the principle of local control," wrote Denver District Judge Joseph Meyer in an injunction against the law. "The goals of the voucher program are laudable. However, even great ideas must be implemented within the framework of the Colorado Constitution."

The law mandated that districts with at least eight poor-performing schools participate in the voucher program, with optional participation available to other districts. The money would be used to help low-income students with private school tuition.

SOURCES:
CNN, "State school voucher law ruled unconstitutional," Dec. 3, 2003
http://www.cnn.com/2003/EDUCATION/12/03/colorado.school.vouchers.ap/ index.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Education Reform, School Choice, and Tax Credits," April 18, 2002
http://www.mackinac.org/4191

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Friedman Says Vouchers and Tax Credits Useful Route to Greater School Choice," March 19, 2002
http://www.mackinac.org/4117

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling: Restoring Parental Control of Education," Jan. 29, 2001
http://www.mackinac.org/3236


DETROIT AUDIT UNCOVERS MISSING FUNDS
DETROIT, Mich. — Internal audits of Detroit Public Schools' finances show that administrators at 28 high schools have misspent or lost track of nearly $140,000 in the last few years. While much of the problem was found to be bad bookkeeping, auditors said funds have also been used to pay for principals' cell phones, travel expenses, and even flowers and traffic tickets.

Audits of the district's records began in 1999 due to a state-mandated reform program. "We saw recordkeeping that needs to be improved," April Royster, Detroit Schools' chief of internal audit, told the Detroit News. "It's mainly an issue of re-communicating policies and re-enforcing them. It's a management issue."

Some schools have improved how they spend cash and are keeping better records, and district administrators have promised to train staff on proper bookkeeping techniques. Sixteen high schools have yet to be audited.

SOURCES:
Detroit News, "School audit reveals flaws," Dec. 5, 2003
http://www.detnews.com/2003/schools/0312/05/d01-342470.htm

Michigan Education Report, "Financial scandals exposed in Michigan school districts," Fall 2002
http://www.educationreport.org/4835


COMMENTARY: VOUCHERS NEEDED IN SOUTH CAROLINA
CHARLESTON, S.C. — A Monday commentary in the Charleston Post and Courier spells out the need for reform in the South Carolina school system, including the introduction of vouchers to help students in low-performing schools attend the school of their choice.

The commentary, authored by Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters of the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy, compares a possible South Carolina program with an existing program in Florida. In the Florida program, public schools faced with the threat of vouchers made significant jumps in test scores compared with other public schools in the state.

Another voucher program in Milwaukee found similar results. "In fact, we know of no study that shows vouchers harm public school student achievement," wrote Greene and Winters. "Making public schools earn their resources ensures that public school students will be better served overall," the analysts wrote.

SOURCES:
Charleston Post and Courier, "S.C. schools need vouchers," Dec. 8, 2003
http://www.charleston.net/stories/120803/com_08greene.shtml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Education Reform, School Choice, and Tax Credits," April 18, 2002
http://www.mackinac.org/4191

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Friedman Says Vouchers and Tax Credits Useful Route to Greater School Choice," March 19, 2002
http://www.mackinac.org/4117

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling: Restoring Parental Control of Education," Jan. 29, 2001
http://www.mackinac.org/3236


MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report ( http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy ( http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at
med@educationreport.org.

To subscribe, go to:
http://www.educationreport.org/pubs/mer/#subscribe.

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