News From the Capitol, Mar 3, 2017

2017-03-03 | Michigan Association of School Boards

  • Changes to Truancy Law Considered in Senate Committee
  • House Education Committee Hears From SRO, MDE
  • House Committee Approves Bill Expanding Energy Savings Opportunities for Districts
  • Senate Education Committee Hears Presentations on School Improvement
  • Exclusive Opportunity for Our Active Advocates!

Changes to Truancy Law Considered in Senate Committee

The Senate Committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services began hearings on Senate Bills 103-106 on Wednesday. This package of bills would create statewide definitions and policies for chronically absent and truant students. The bills would also prohibit suspension as a punishment for absenteeism.

The committee heard testimony on the number of factors that can lead to a student missing school, including for family, financial reasons, unreliable transportation or illness that are often outside of the student’s control but can lead to long-term consequences. Supporters of the bill argued that low levels of high school graduation and the literacy rate of prison inmates in the state can largely be attributed to missing school.

However, some technical issues have been raised with the legislation, including how to enforce online learners and homeschoolers, and how the bill would affect counties that are already addressing absenteeism at their local level. There are also concerns with the strictness of the definition of “in attendance,” and that it appears to be far stricter than the definition created under the Every Student Succeeds Act on which local school districts will have to report to the federal government. Finally, there are a lot of requirements for schools under these bills, but not for the prosecutors or courts to which schools refer the truant students. For this new law to work, all entities involved must actively participate.

The committee chair indicated there would another hearing next week on this package and we do expect some changes.

House Education Reform Committee Hears From SRO, MDE

The House Education Reform Committee heard presentations from the School Reform Officer and the Michigan Department of Education this week.

The SRO, Natasha Baker, presented to the committee on the office and took questions regarding the most recent bottom 5% list. Ms. Baker stated that she was following the law when letters were sent to parents about possible school closures even though final determinations have not been made. The SRO is currently conducting the final determination process on the 38 schools listed for possible closure, but did note that the Governor has asked her to delay that decision until April. The decision to close a school is based partly on whether the closure would cause unreasonable hardship on the students and whether a top-performing school can be accessed.

Most of the discussion focused on the unreasonable hardship clause and what that meant. The SRO stated they looked at high-performing schools within a 30-mile radius of the failing school and listed those as possible options for parents. Many committee members questioned the radius and how transportation would be handled. The SRO did not have answers for those questions  but encouraged the committee to have further discussions on school transportation issues in general.

MDE then presented on the partnership model that is proposed in the Governor’s budget, covered in last week’s News From the Capitol. They also stated that a letter went out to the superintendents of the districts where the 38 schools on the SRO’s potential closure list are located giving them the option of entering into the partnership model with MDE. The model could include community colleges, a university, social services, mental health, the business community, foundations, school groups or a local intermediate school district. The groups would partner with MDE and the local school district to create an agreement to help a troubled school meet its new goals and raise its overall grade. The affected districts have 60 days to determine if they’d like to enter the new model or not.

House Committee Approves Bill Expanding Energy Savings Opportunities for Districts

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Local Government unanimously reported House Bill 4080 out of committee and to the floor. The bill allows districts to utilize lease-purchase agreements as an additional method of financing energy conservation and improvement projects.

Additionally, the bill expands permitted conservation and improvement projects to include "energy conservation and operational improvements to school facilities or infrastructure." Currently, energy conservation improvements to school facilities are allowed to be funded through operating funds of the school district, proceeds from the sale of bonds or an energy savings performance contract.

MASB supports this legislation and the additional tool it gives districts when considering energy conservation and operational improvement projects as a way to reduce overall costs.

Senate Education Committee Hears Presentations on School Improvement

The Senate Education Committee continued its hearings on Senate Bill 27 and a replacement for Section 1280c and the SRO this week. This meeting focused on school improvement and featured two presentations.

The first was from Five Star Life and its President Seth Maust. Five Star Life is based out of Indiana and has created a leadership program focused on getting students interested in learning and teachers more engaged. Mr. Maust said the organization focuses on academics, workforce readiness, character development, experiential learning and mentors that hold students accountable. He also stated that the program has been used in rural areas of Indiana and parts of Michigan, but does carry a price tag that averages $4,000 per school building.

The second presentation was from Gary Naeyaert, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Education Project. He presented his alternative to 1280c with a focus on replacing the adults in a school if it is failing and advocated for the closure of schools. He also stated support for an A-F grading system that would have one single grade for a district. GLEP feels that the system wouldn’t just identify the worst performing schools, but could also highlight the best and encourage struggling schools to look to “A” schools for suggestions.

The Education Committee will continue its hearings next week.

Exclusive Opportunity for Our Active Advocates!

Thank you for being an active advocate and reading News From the Capitol! We would like to offer you the first opportunity to register for the 2017 MASA/MASB Legislative Conference. Registration will open to all members on Monday, but space is limited.

Simply fill out and submit this form to secure your spot. This year’s conference will be held at the Radisson Hotel in Lansing on May 2. Registration/breakfast begins at 7:15 a.m. and the program begins at 8 a.m. The conference will feature a legislative panel, breakout sessions on the School Aid Budget, current legislative issues and other hot topics, and a legislative update to give you all you need to know to head to the Capitol to meet with your legislators in the afternoon. Details are still being finalized and will be shared as soon as they are confirmed.

Register today and we’ll see you in Lansing! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.