Contents of this issue:
  • Kentwood teachers, staff vote to let union leaders call strike

  • School bus drivers to face tougher license requirements

  • Secretary of Education calls for end to college loan loophole

  • Home-schoolers take offense at Muskegon mock terrorist drill

  • Study: Students using Milwaukee vouchers graduate at high rate

  • Fraud, waste force government to halt Internet grants to schools

KENTWOOD, Mich. — Teachers and staff in Kentwood have voted to authorize their union leaders to call a strike against the Kentwood school district, according to the Grand Rapids Press and WXMI-TV in Grand Rapids. The vote was held in response to an impasse in contract talks that has lasted for nearly a year and a half.

A final vote tally last week allowed the local leadership to call for a strike if it felt insufficient progress was being made in bargaining talks. Of the 900 union members, nearly 800 reportedly authorized the possibility of a strike.

The vote doesn't necessarily mean teachers will immediately walk off the job, said local union president Jim Sawyer. "I think it's premature to talk about picket lines and work stoppages and things like that," he told "FOX 17 News at Ten." "We have to get back to the bargaining table and bargain, and that's our plan at this time."

A nine-hour bargaining session on Thursday failed to bring any solution in the contract talks. The main issue in contention is the cost of employee health insurance.

School district administrators say that in the event of a strike, they reserve the right to contract school services to private firms in order to keep the schools running. District officials say that they have already lined up parent volunteers to replace support staff, and that they can fire any teachers who choose to strike.

Teacher strikes in Michigan are illegal under Public Act 112 of 1994, which penalizes teachers who walk off the job during the school year. The last strike in Kentwood was in 1980.

Fox 17 News, "Kentwood Teachers, Staffers Authorize Strike," Sept. 28, 2004,0,833683.story

Grand Rapids Press, "Talks fail to bring settlement," Oct. 1, 2004

Grand Rapids Press, "Kentwood teachers, staffers authorize strike," Sept. 28, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A New Day for Michigan Schools," April 1995

Michigan Education Report, "Detroit Teachers Illegally Strike," Fall 1999

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Analyst Says: Close Teacher Strike Loophole That Allowed Anti-Charter School Protest," October 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Failure of Anti-Strike Law to Deter Teachers Calls for New Measures, Analyst Says," September 1999

HOUGHTON, Mich. — Michigan legislators last week approved a tougher licensing system for school bus drivers, adding new tests to the driver certification process. The change was made to bring the state into compliance with federal bus safety regulations, according to the Daily Mining Gazette.

The bills would require that bus drivers obtain an "S" endorsement on their driver's license, which consists of extra written and driving tests for all new drivers. Current drivers would have until Sept. 30, 2005 to take the new tests to retain their certification. "Being a school bus driver is a tremendous responsibility for anybody, and I think we take it very seriously and make sure our drivers are trained as well as they can be," said Hancock Public Schools Superintendent John Vaara.

But the new requirements could make it more difficult to find substitute bus drivers, said Vaara. "Finding (substitute drivers) is a problem, and I don't know how that would fit into that particular piece of legislation," he said.

Daily Mining Gazette, "Bus drivers to face tougher requirements," Sept. 30, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Survey says: Outsourcing non-instructional services benefits Michigan schools," Fall 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. secretary of education called on Congress last week to reform the nation's college loan program and close a loophole that has cost the government more than $1 billion since the 1980s.

The Higher Education Act allows entities that provide federal loans, such as states and some nonprofit organizations, to collect 9.5 percent interest payments from the federal government, while the current market rate for loans is around 3.4 percent. These entities can keep the extra interest income, causing an excess of payments from taxpayers to loan institutions.

Though some members of Congress have called upon the Bush administration to directly intervene in the law, immediately stopping payments, Education Secretary Rod Paige said a legislative session would be "the most direct and expeditious" solution to the loophole. Congress is currently working on a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which legislators indicate could include a fix to the overpayment loophole.

New York Times, "Congress May Close Billion-Dollar Loan Loophole," Oct. 1, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Student Loans and the High Cost of College," November 1997

MUSKEGON, Mich. — A mock terrorist exercise in Muskegon last month offended home-schoolers nationwide through its choice of an imagined terrorist group, which home-schoolers say unfairly characterized them as violent extremists.

City and school officials coordinated the exercise to prepare for a possible scenario in which a bomb was planted by terrorists in a school bus full of children. The name of the terrorist group used by coordinators was "Wackos Against Schools and Education," who, according to materials describing the scenario, believed that everyone should be home-schooled. That description was published in the Muskegon Chronicle to explain the exercise, leading to a flood of calls and e-mails from home-schoolers and home-school advocacy groups across the nation. "Home-schoolers have never been accused of violence against any school," said Chris Klicka of the Washington-based Home-Schooling Legal Defense Association. "There's an outpouring from the nation — it's a mockery against what home-schooling is and the contributions home-schoolers have made to the country."

Daniel Stout, chief deputy of emergency services for the Muskegon Sheriff's Department, said his intention with the name was not to make a statement against home-schoolers. "That's just what I decided to use," he told the Muskegon Chronicle. "It may have been a poor choice, but that's what was used ... I'm the one who wrote the scenario." The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District issued a statement saying they were not aware of the name when it was created, but apologized for its connotation. "We sincerely regret offending home-school educators," the statement said. "We believe that all parents are educators and do important work at home with their children."

Muskegon Chronicle, "Home-schoolers incensed by drill scenario," Sept. 22, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Home Schoolers Make Case for School Choice," May 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Home schooling works, study finds," Aug. 15, 1999

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A study published last week of Milwaukee students using tuition vouchers to attend private schools finds that these students graduate at a higher rate than students enrolled in the Milwaukee Public Schools. The study's author, Jay P. Greene of the New York-based Manhattan Institute, says the results suggest the 14-year-old program may be achieving unusual success.

According to the study, about 64 percent of students using vouchers to attend private schools in the Milwaukee area graduate from high school after four years, compared to just 36 percent of students in Milwaukee public schools. "Nationwide, roughly half of students in urban high schools fail to receive a regular high school diploma," said Greene. "In Milwaukee and Cleveland, it's well under half. Any program that offers a big improvement in the probability of urban students graduating is something that we should be very interested in."

Some scholars said they questioned the study because it relied on data from 10 of 100 private schools accepting tuition voucher students. These students may also come from more motivated families, which could account for their achievement, said Richard D. Kahlenburg of Milwaukee-based Century Foundation.

Greene acknowledged this fact, but pointed to several Milwaukee public schools that have selective admission requirements where the gradation rate is 41 percent — well below the 64 percent rate of tuition voucher students.

Washington Post, "Study Bolsters Case For Tuition Vouchers," Sept. 29, 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

NEW YORK — Allegations and incidents of fraud and waste in a $2.25 billion federal program to increase educational Internet access have forced government officials to temporarily shut down the program and discuss new rules for disbursing the funds.

The program, which provides grants to schools and libraries for Internet connections, is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission. Funds come from a telecommunications service tax begun in the Clinton Administration under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Tighter rules on spending being formulated by government officials forced the Universal Service Administrative Company, the nonprofit that distributes the program's money, to liquidate more than $3 billion in investments last week, possibly at a loss.

The moratorium on the "E-Rate" program, as it is called, began two months ago with no notice and will continue until program administrators say it is ready to filter out the fraud and waste evident in the program's history. Sen. Olympia J. Snow, R-Maine, one of the program's original co-sponsors, said the moratorium endangers the program's future. "This has the potential to imperil the program by leaving it in a state of such uncertainty," she said. "It raises questions about why these decisions were made."

New York Times, "Internet Grants to Schools Halted as the F.C.C. Tightens the Rules," Oct. 4, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "State Provision of Internet Access: A Bad Idea Whose Time Shouldn't Come," December 2001

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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