Contents of this issue:
  • State official: MESSA health care plan too expensive, lacks competition

  • Low college graduation rates cause concern among educators, lawmakers

  • EDITORIAL: Florida vouchers, tax credits a positive impact

  • Denver teachers' union approves merit pay plan

  • Testing requirements relaxed under "No Child Left Behind"

  • Chicago principals say parents should rate teachers

KENTWOOD, Mich. — A state labor expert has voiced concern over skyrocketing premiums for teacher health insurance plans in the Kentwood school district.

In a report commissioned by the Kentwood Board of Education and the Kentwood unit of the Michigan Education Association (MEA), Maurice Kelman of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, states that, "A work place in which the employer still provides as the one and only health plan the costliest version of health insurance ... and moreover asks the employee to assume no part of the ever-rising cost is a glaring anachronism." Kelman added that despite this fact, "The union rejects out of hand any switch to a non-MESSA plan."

Currently, health care insurance for teachers in the Kentwood district is provided by the Michigan Education Association Special Services Association (MESSA), a service that Kelman believes is costly and not competitive.

Rates for MESSA coverage in the Kentwood district increased 18 percent in 2003 and 15 percent this school year. In response to the increases, the district wants teachers and employees to contribute part of their earnings each month toward the cost of coverage. "The need to grant the district relief from its soaring health costs," Kelman told the Grand Rapids Press, "is so clear to an outside observer as to be undebatable."

The Grand Rapids Press, "'A glaring anachronism': Kentwood school fact-finder shows Kent-Ottawa insurance excesses," Mar. 29, 2004 1080575242181670.xml

State of Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services, "Report of the Fact Finder," Mar. 12, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MEA Abuses Public School Health Care Funds," Aug. 7, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," November 1993

Michigan Privatization Report, "Ensuring Insurance Competition," September 1998

WASHINGTON, D.C. — College graduation rates around the country, including Michigan, are only slightly above 50 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm established a commission two weeks ago to investigate possible solutions to Michigan's low college graduation rate, which was 53.6 percent in 2002. "A college education is much more important to your economic success today than it's ever been," Lt. Gov. John Cherry, chairman of the commission, told Booth Newspapers.

According to some experts, the larger problem behind the low rate is the inability of college students to perform at expected levels due to poor preparation in high school.

"There has really been a serious drop in the quality and the meaning of a high school diploma," said Andrew Coulson, a senior education fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Midland-based free-market research institute. State Superintendent Tom Watkins agreed. "It is unacceptable that our children would attend a college and have to do remedial work."

Booth Newspapers, "College degrees longer in the making," Mar. 29, 2004 1080299514119890.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," Aug. 31, 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Graduation Rates an Imperfect Measure of School Excellence," January 2002

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A recent editorial by the Wall Street Journal defends Florida's school choice programs from attack by lawmakers and critics including Jesse Jackson, who earlier this month called Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's school choice policies "racist." "[Jackson] and his allies understand all too well that when poor African-American and Latino children start getting the same shot at a decent education that the children of our politicians do, the bankrupt public education empire starts looking like the Berlin Wall," the Journal wrote.

Florida currently has three programs aimed at expanding school choice. "The first are called Opportunity Scholarships, which allow children to opt out of failing public schools. Second are McKay Scholarships, which provide full school choice to special-ed students," the Journal explained. The third is a corporate tax credit, which allows businesses to deduct from their state taxes, dollar-for-dollar, money donated to a designated scholarship fund.

The Journal accuses the legislative authors of a bill calling for greater accountability for the programs of trying to "regulate them to death." However, the Journal also noted that "A pro-voucher rally in Tallahassee attracted more marchers (if not more favorable media attention) than the Reverend Jackson's protest that preceded it."

Wall Street Journal, "The Empire Strikes Back," Mar. 25, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Education Reform, School Choice, and Tax Credits," Spring 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Universal Tuition Tax Credit: A Proposal to Advance Parental Choice in Education," November 1997

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling: Restoring Parental Control of Education," January 2001

DENVER, Colo. — Denver teachers, along with their union, approved this month a new merit pay system to pay teachers based partly on their students' performance in the classroom.

Generally, most teachers are paid on a set scale based on years of service and level of education, from bachelor's to Ph.D degrees. With the new system, supporters say, teachers will be better motivated to help their students succeed in the classroom. "I think for all the young people going into education, this will be a boon," Robert A. Tomsich, a 4th grade teacher for 40 years, told Education Week. "You never got anywhere [in salary] for being excellent in your job."

Denver taxpayers must now approve the program, which is projected to cost around $25 million annually. Teachers in the union approved the plan 59 to 41 percent. It will appear on the Denver area ballot in 2005.

"I'm getting phone calls and e-mails from all over the country," said Denver superintendent Jerry Wartgow. "We're very pleased and proud of the teachers who stepped forward into a new arena."

Education Week, "Denver Teachers Approve Pay-for-Performance Plan," Mar. 23, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Incentives for Teacher Performance in Government Schools: An Idea Whose Time Has Come," Spring 2002

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education relaxed a portion of the "No Child Left Behind" Act that requires 95 percent of all students to take math and English assessment tests in order for a school to be considered successful.

The new requirements allow schools to average 95 percent participation over a two- to three-year period, rather than meeting that standard every year. Many schools complained that students absent on test days were hurting their schools' participation levels, causing some to be labeled as failing to meet the Act's requirements for "Adequate Yearly Progress." The relatively small change does not affect any of the larger complaints against the Act filed in recent months by schools and districts who believe the requirements are underfunded and too stringent. President Bush, however, said he will not loosen key requirements in order to cater to what he calls the "soft bigotry of low expectations."

Detroit News, "Feds ease No Child testing numbers," Mar. 30, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Fall 2002

Michigan Education Report, "President signs 'No Child Left Behind Act,'" Winter 2002

CHICAGO, Ill. — A struggle between Chicago principals and teachers has erupted over a new survey rating principals and over teachers' accusation that principals are not supporting them in trying to stem violence against teachers by students.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) earlier this month announced it would mail 33,000 surveys to teachers and paraprofessionals in Chicago asking each to rate their principal. In response, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association proposed that parents rate teachers, as well.

In addition, a union-sponsored survey on school security last summer found many teachers believe their principals are not living up to safety standards in the schools. A total of 1,300 incidents of violent crime against teachers were reported in the 2002-2003 school year.

Principals responded that students must either be tolerated or expelled, an option of last resort, because there are few alternative schools for violent children. "In the last six months, 651 students have been expelled. That's a direct indication that principals have indeed been pursuing the removal of violent children from schools and children who bring in drugs and weapons," Berry told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Chicago Sun-Times, "Principals say parents should rate teachers," Mar. 26, 2004

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

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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