News From the Capitol, Mar 17, 2017

2017-03-17 | Michigan Association of School Boards

  • House Committee Continues Testimony on Repealing the Michigan State Standards
  • MASB Testifies on Tax Changes Affecting the School Aid Fund
  • House Financial Liability Reform Hears Presentations on School Budgets
  • Physical Presence to Vote Considered Again
  • House Education Reform Committee Votes on HB 4163; Hears Presentations on Accountability
  • Registration Now Available for MASA/MASB Legislative Conference on May 2

House Committee Continues Testimony on Repealing the Michigan State Standards

The House Michigan Competitiveness Committee continued testimony on House Bill 4192 this week.

This bill would replace the current Michigan State Standards with the academic standards in effect in Massachusetts during the 2008-2009 school year. It would also allow for parents to opt their student(s) out of any public school activity, and ban any use of state resources for standards related to the Common Core.

Testimony supporting the bill focused on the feeling that the standards are too rigorous and harming our children. MASA and MASSP, as well as two teachers from northern Michigan, testified opposed. They pointed to the work that has been put into creating local curriculum to reach the standards and the benefits of having high standards.

MASB opposes this bill because changing the standards now will only harm schools and students who, seven years later, would have to unnecessarily adjust to yet another set of standards. The Legislature has passed multiple laws, including the top-to-bottom list and educator evaluation that are based on student growth and proficiency. If we continue to change the standards, there will not be reliable data to evaluate.

The Chair once again indicated that more hearings will be held on this issue as not everyone who wished to testify was able to in the committee’s limited time. In the meantime, we urge you to contact your Representative, especially if they sit on the Michigan Competitiveness Committee, and tell them to maintain the Michigan State Standards currently in effect.

MASB Testifies on Tax Changes Affecting the School Aid Fund

Committees in the both the House and Senate considered bills to create new exemptions from the sales and use taxes. MASB, along with seven other education organizations, turned in written testimony expressing our concerns with the constant erosion of the revenue streams to the School Aid Fund and local revenues.

The Senate considered and passed Senate Bills 94-95, which would accelerate the sales tax on the difference exemption. This would increase the dollar amount that is excluded from sales and use taxes when a vehicle or recreational vehicle is traded in for a new, used or recreational vehicle. Under the acceleration, the SAF would lose $8 million initially and more than $17 million in the first full year. Currently, the sales tax on the difference exemption increases by $500 each year for the next 20 years.

MASB testified opposed to the acceleration. While we did not support the original plan, the current law is much easier to absorb than the larger cut an acceleration would create.

The House considered House Bills 4350-4351, which would exempt certain aviation parts and equipment from the sales and use taxes. These bills have an undetermined negative effect on the SAF.

MASB and its partners will continue to work to educate the legislators on the cumulative effect of these bills. The Senate Finance Committee is also holding a series of hearings on the tax structure in Michigan. This is encouraging as we may be able to have a bigger conversation on our tax structure rather than these piecemeal cuts.

House Financial Liability Reform Hears Presentations on School Budgets

On Wednesday, the House Financial Liability Reform Committee met to hear a presentation from Robbie Jameson of the State Budget Office on the history of Proposal A and an overview of the School Aid Fund. Jameson received many questions from committee members on the difference between the state minimum and maximum foundation allotments, as well as comments that the state should be doing more to help schools with declining enrollment.

The committee also heard a presentation from Mike Haggerty, Assistant Superintendent at Kent ISD, and Chris Glass, Director at West Michigan Talent Triangle. Their presentation focused on trends Kent ISD has seen regarding their school budget and staffing. Haggerty walked the committee through how pupil counts and the foundation grant affect expenditures such as wages and benefits, including retirement and health insurance, and what is left at the end of the day for classroom expenditures. Glass then presented statistics and evidence on the declining number of educators and individuals enrolled in teacher preparation programs across Michigan.

If the Legislature decides to try and tackle MPSERS reform again this session, it is rumored the legislation could go through this committee. We expect presentations to continue to bring new members up to speed on the complex issues affecting school finance and our retirement system.

Physical Presence to Vote Considered Again

The House Oversight Committee began testimony on House Bill 4184, which would require that a member of an elected public body be physically present to be able to vote. If a person is participating in the meeting remotely and votes, it would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act. This is a reintroduction of legislation MASB opposed last session.

However, HB 4184 starts where the Senate left off, so the bill isn’t quite as restrictive. It allows for a person to participate through a video conferencing system for a "good cause" once a year. The restriction would not apply to a person who is in the military or to an emergency meeting.

MASB continues to have concerns with the bill and testified to changes we would like to see. Currently, it applies to public bodies consisting “only of elected members.” This treats public bodies differently such as ISDs and public school academy boards, and raises questions if one member has been appointed. We also urged the committee to consider requiring a physical quorum be present and allow the good-cause exemption for more than one meeting a year.

We have concerns that this tight restriction will also discourage qualified people from running for school board positions because they may have other time commitments. We urged the committee to consider this and the fact that our board members are volunteers; we don’t want to see something in law that would hinder good people from serving our students.

House Education Reform Committee Votes on HB 4163; Hears Presentations on Accountability

On Thursday, the House Committee on Education Reform voted out House Bill 4163. This bill would make school calendars and schedules prohibited subjects of bargaining. The legislation now goes to the full House of Representatives where it is unclear if or when it could be taken up for a vote.

The committee then heard presentations on accountability systems. With State Superintendent Brian Whiston stating earlier this week that he would not pursue letter grades in the ESSA plan, the Chair of the committee wanted to raise the issue legislatively.

First, Beth DeShone, Advocacy Director for the Great Lakes Education Project, testified in support of an A-F grading system that would have one single grade for a district. GLEP stated it 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 Mackinac Center for Public Policy also spoke in support of an A-F letter grading system with clear and accessible data on the factors contributing to a summative letter grade for a district.

Finally, Dr. Nick Ceglarek, Superintendent of Hudsonville Public Schools, and Doug Greer, Director of School Improvement for Ottawa Area ISD, presented on their plan for an accountability system and the success they’ve seen with the Reading Now Network. Dr. Ceglarek and Mr. Greer spoke in support of a dashboard approach made up of primary and secondary indicators. While they didn’t rule out a conversation on multiple letter grades for individual indicators, they strongly opposed any summative grade.

Registration Now Available for MASA/MASB Legislative Conference on May 2

Registration is now available for the 2017 MASA/MASB Legislative Conference. 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.

Simply fill out and submit this form to secure your spot. 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.