Contents of this issue:
  • School choice improves budgets in Kent county school districts

  • Schools use prizes, treats to ensure attendance for state funding

  • New Chicago schools rated safer, but not independent

  • Howell voters choose to override "Headlee Amendment"

  • Educators testify about college tuition and training at state hearing

  • School districts fight truancy with new enthusiasm

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Eight school districts in Kent County report more students than last year due to their participation in the state's "schools of choice" program, bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid to the districts' budgets, according to the Grand Rapids Press.

Districts that participate in the schools-of-choice program agree to let non-district students attend the district's schools, usually up to a pre-established quota. The Grandville district reported that it accepted 107 new students, so that even though 37 others left, it realized a net increase of $469,000. "We didn't come up with a strategy to use the choice plan for that purpose," Grandville Superintendent Ron Caniff told the Press. "We opened 124 slots for choice students this year based on the space we had, and that's consistent with what we've done in the past."

Even districts that experienced a net loss in students were able through choice programs to cushion the financial blow a large loss would have caused. The Wyoming school district is down 30 students this year, but gained 150 students through schools of choice, reducing a potential $1 million loss in state aid to $201,000.

Grand Rapids Press, "Schools reverse fortunes thanks to choice," Sept. 26, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling," January 2001

LANSING, Mich. - Many public schools last week used prizes, treats and fun events to encourage students to attend school and be included in the annual pupil-count day, which largely determines the level of a district's state funding.

Most state funding for schools is issued on a per-pupil basis, determined each fall on what is known as "count day." The money issued to schools based on figures from count day is 80 percent of each school's funding, say administrators. "It's a numbers game," Walnut School principal Boku Hendrickson told the Lansing State Journal. "We're looking at kids as money, and that's unfortunate."

The incentives work, according to Jim Warren, a 6th-grade teacher at a Holt-area middle school. His school holds a "Cookie Day" on count day, and just four students were absent that day, compared to an average of 25 students on other days.

Students absent on count day can be added to the total number of students within 30 days if the absence was excused, or within 10 days if the absence was not excused.

Lansing State Journal, "Treats, prizes lure students for official attendance day," Sept. 23, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible Public School Districts," December 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" August 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Keeping Michigan on Track: A Blueprint for a Freer, More Prosperous State," May 2002

CHICAGO - New, smaller schools in Chicago are safer and more intimate than traditional high schools, according to students and staff, but struggle financially and are not as independent as administrators originally hoped.

The Chicago Public Schools created the new schools by breaking the city's large, traditional high schools into smaller, more independent units. The models were promoted in Mayor Richard Daley's "Renaissance 2010" plan, which generated reform in the city's education system. "A small school allows for people to get to know each other, and because of our size, we can work together for a common goal," Bill Gerstein, principal of the School of Entrepreneurship, told the Chicago Sun-Times. "As a result, we have a lot of kids on track to graduate, somewhere close to 90 percent." Prior to the changes, the graduation rate was only 67 percent.

A report on the schools has questioned whether the structure of the Chicago public school system allows it to support them. Staff at the new schools also said there is disagreement about whether school administrators or CPS officials have more say on school policies.

But feelings about the schools ultimately seem to be positive. "The spirit of what they've done -- creating this sense of personalization and support, where kids feel cared for and where teachers want to teach -- that's critically important," said schools CEO Arne Duncan.

Chicago Sun-Times, "New small schools rated safer, more cooperative," Sept. 24, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Class Size Reduction Is Expensive," October 1998

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "With Clear Eyes, Sincere Hearts and Open Minds," July 2002

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Voters approved an override of the state constitution's "Headlee Amendment" in the Howell School District, allowing officials to levy an 18-mill tax on homestead and commercial property for school funding.

The Headlee Amendment limits local property tax for schools to an inflation-related rate, but voters can choose to override it in local districts. Voters in Howell originally turned down the override earlier this year, but a second vote proved successful for proponents.

Howell Superintendent Chuck Breiner told the Ann Arbor News that the override was necessary because taxes on new developments around the city do not reflect what the property is worth. Farmland assessed at $150,000 and sold to a developer for $1.5 million is only taxed at the lower, assessed rate.

Voter turnout for the special election was 9 percent, or about 3,800. That was a "great" turnout, according to Breiner.

Ann Arbor News, "Headlee amendment overridden," Sept. 21, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Headlee Amendment: Serving Michigan for 25 Years," August 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Headlee Amendment: Alive and Well," October 1994

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Educators told state officials at a public hearing last week that colleges need to refocus their efforts on job training and lower tuition to improve the job market and the economy.

The Lieutenant Governor's Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth is holding six public hearings around the state to gather opinions from education experts about the state's university system and job growth. At last Monday's hearing, held on the Great Lakes campus of Northwestern Michigan College, Leonard Zolnierek, chairman of the Alpena County Commission, said colleges need to focus on entrepreneurship instead of relying on existing companies to provide graduates with jobs. "The thinking used to be, 'How do I get a job at the cement plant or how do I get out of here so I don't have to work at the cement plant?'" said Zolnierek, according to the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Zolnierek also said that tuition at the state's universities should be made more affordable. But Lt. Gov. John Cherry said that higher education in the state is more affordable than people realize. "That's the other issue," Zolnierek replied. "Selling the programs that are out there."

Comments to the commission may be submitted in writing to Cherry Commission, c/o Public Sector Consultants Inc., 600 W. Saint Joseph St., Suite 10, Lansing, MI 48933-2267, or by e-mail to

Traverse City Record-Eagle, "State panel hears input on education," Sept. 21, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private Prepaid Tuition Programs Can Help Make College Affordable," September 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Competition Among Professors Would Help Parents Afford College," August 1999

WASHINGTON, D.C. - School districts across the country are becoming increasingly involved in the fight against truancy, due to sanctions against schools that fail to improve the education of all their students.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools educate all their students to a basic standard or face sanctions. Students cannot meet those standards if they are not in school to learn what they need. "The department sees this as a serious issue," said Bill Modzeleski, the associate deputy undersecretary for the Safe and Drug-free Schools Office at the U.S. Department of Education. "If students are not in school, they are not learning and engaging."

In response, districts have publicly stepped up their fights against absenteeism, according to Education Week. One Houston student who was at home instead of in class answered her door to the Houston district superintendent, a state senator and a crew of news reporters. The Los Angeles district recently passed a resolution allowing teachers to link grades to attendance, and the Philadelphia school system trains parents to volunteer as truancy officers to visit absentee students. In Chicago, a similar parent-based volunteer force cut truancy rates in half.

Other districts, such as those in Alabama, allow the courts to prosecute parents and students who miss class too often. "Sometimes, the obvious is the hardest issue to initiate and complete," said Alabama State Superintendent Joseph B. Morton. "If students are not in school, it's difficult for them to learn."

Education Week, "Districts Tackling Truancy With New Zeal," Sept. 22, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," August 2000

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

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

To subscribe or unsubscribe, go to: