In Legislative Update

EMU Board of Regents Chooses to Continue Educational Achievement Authority Experiment

The American Federation of Teachers Michigan released the following statements regarding the decision by the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents to postpone the vote on the university’s future with the troubled Education Achievement Authority district in Detroit.

“It’s extremely frustrating that the EMU Board of Regents did not take the opportunity to end the failed experiment of the EAA,” said David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan.“The evidence is clear that the EAA has not worked and these schools must be returned to where they were taken from, the Detroit Public Schools, and be governed by a democratically-elected and empowered school board. The EAA was not needed in the first place and there is no reason for it to continue.”

“We’re very disappointed that the board has once again not listened to the voices of faculty and students,” said Lisa Laverty, president of the EMU Federation of Teachers and AFT Michigan vice president, who spoke at the board meeting today.“The board’s own benchmarks to determine whether the district has been a success have shown that the EAA is an abject failure. The board’s actions don’t reflect the interests of the university and it’s a failure of leadership to ignore the voices of those of us who teach, work and learn in Southeast Michigan. Delaying this decision delays justice and a quality education for the students of Detroit.”

EAA Chancellor Veronica Conforme presented to the Senate Education Committee the day after the Board of Regents meeting, on the progress of the EAA. Since she took over the operation of the district, three schools have moved out of the bottom five percent of schools statewide. Conforme acknowledge the marginal improvement in EAA students’ achievement, noting that average ACT scores for EAA students increased negligibly from 13.3 in 2011 to 13.5.

House to Consider Data Center Tax Break Bills

Bills that will provide tax incentives for a $5 billion data center development in west Michigan are likely to move through the Michigan Legislature this week. AFT Michigan and members of education advocacy community had deep concerns about the impact these tax breaks could have on the School Aid Fund, but amendments to hold the SAF harmless from sales tax reductions was added in the Senate and offered by Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights). The House Tax Policy Committee approved a substitute bill which also protected the SAF from use tax losses. AFT Michigan worked with many legislators to ensure school funding would not take a hit from these bills, in concert with the Michigan Association of School Boards which has been a champion in protecting the School Aid Fund from piecemeal cuts to revenue streams.

Bill Allowing Some Retirees to Return to the Classroom in Critical Shortage Areas and as Substitutes Sent to Governor

For many years, Michigan law allowed retired members of the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) to return to work as substitute teachers, or in other critical shortage staffing areas, without negatively impacting their pension. However, that exemption ended in 2014. Since then, there have been efforts in the Legislature – supported by AFT Michigan – to reinstate that exemption.

Most recently, House Bill 4059, sponsored by Representative Holly Hughes (R-White River Twp.), seeks to address the issue by reinstating the ability for retired MPSERS members to return to work under certain circumstances without harming their pension.

The bill was approved almost unanimously by members of both the Michigan House and Senate with immediate effect and was sent to Governor Snyder for his signature. We expect him to sign the bill before the end of the month.

This bill represents more than a year’s worth of hard work of many active and retired school employees, as well as school administrators and board members. Thank you to our members who helped fight for this very important legislation.

House Appropriations Committee Takes Testimony on Bills To Expand Sinking Fund Uses

A bill introduced by Rep. Mike McCready (R-Bloomfield Hills) would allow schools to levy sinking fund millages for technology and security improvements was considered by the House Appropriations Committee last week, but no vote was taken.

Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said a vote on the bill could come early next year. The bill would expand the use of sinking funds, but lower the cap on the amount of the millage from 5 mills to 3 mills and limit the duration from 20 years to 10 years.  Currently, only twelve districts levy more than 3 mills for sinking funds. Hamtramck Public Schools, which collects 4 mills, is the only district where employees are represented by AFT Michigan that currently collects more than 3 mills. HPS and districts collecting more than 3 mills would be able to continue collecting at that level, but they will not be able to use those funds for technology and security upgrades.

State Board of Education Approves Top-10 State Goals

At its last meeting, the State Board of Education adopted a framework to make Michigan a top 10 education state in 10 years. State Superintendent Brian Whiston and the Board heard testimony and met with dozens educators and organizations to develop the goals, which include:

  • Provide every child access to an aligned, high-quality P-20 system from early childhood to post-secondary attainment — through a multi-stakeholder collaboration with business and industry, labor, and higher education — to maximize lifetime learning and success.
  • Implement, with strong district and building leadership, high-quality instruction in every classroom through a highly coherent, child-centered instructional model where students meet their self-determined academic and personal goals to their highest potential.
  • Develop, support, and sustain a high-quality, prepared, and collaborative education workforce.
  • Reduce the impact of high-risk factors, including poverty, and provide equitable resources to meet the needs of all students to ensure that they have access to quality educational opportunities.
  • Ensure that parents and guardians are engaged and supported partners in their child’s education.
  • Create a strong alignment and partnership with job providers, community colleges, and higher education to assure a prepared and quality future workforce; and informed and responsible citizens.
  • Further develop an innovative and cohesive state education agency that supports an aligned, coherent education system at all levels (state, intermediate school district, district and school).

The State Board of Education also voted to pass a resolution discouraging the Legislature from moving forward SB 279 and SB 280, which would limit the ability for school employees and management to work collaboratively to improve the working and learning conditions in Michigan’s public schools. State Board of Education Member Michelle Fecteau, executive director of AAUP-AFT 6075 at Wayne State University was instrumental in bringing the bills to the board’s attention. The resolution passed along party lines 6-2.

Michigan Ranks at the Bottom in Per-Pupil Funding

According to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Michigan ranks twelfth worst in cuts to education in the country. The report found that most states, including Michigan, are still investing less in education than they did before the Great Recession. It’s clear that our schools are underfunded in Michigan, which is why AFT Michigan championed an education cost study to determine the true cost of educating all students in the state. This study is currently being conducted, and results  will be presented to the Legislature by June 2016.

House Approves Bill to Prohibit Straight Ticket Voting Option

House Republicans found just enough votes to pass SB 13, sponsored by Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy), which will prohibit allowing voters to vote by straight party. The bill passed 54-51, with all Democrats voting no, joined by Republican Reps. John Bizon, Dave Pagel, Marin Howrylak, Ben Glardon, and Phil Potvin. Proponents of the bill say it will require voters to be more informed and make better choices. However, this is insulting to people – from both parties—who use straight ticket voting to cast their votes for a party because they believe that party best exemplifies their values. AFT Michigan is opposed to this bill because it appears to be nothing more than a partisan power grab; a thinly veiled attempt to discourage people from exercising their right to vote by creating longer wait times at the polls and suppress voting in areas that typically support Democratic policies and candidates.

In order to secure passage of the bill in the House, it was tie-barred to so-called “secure, no reason absentee voting,” which still requires voters to apply in person at a clerk’s office during business hours and present a photo ID. This is still cumbersome for people who need to work during the day or might not have the means to get a photo ID. While AFT Michigan supports no-reason absentee voting, this bill will do little to increase accessibility to the polls.

The Senate now must approve the House changes to SB 13. It is unclear if, or when, the issue will be addressed.


Recent Posts