Friday, March 22, 2013

EAA passes House

[Gongwer, 21 March 2013]
EAA Passes House With Big Changes

The House passed a bill today that would codify the Education Achievement Authority and allow it to handle 50 low-performing schools throughout the state, but also provides schools with an option to come under the oversight of their intermediate school district instead.

The bill (HB 4369*) narrowly passed 57-53, and would expand the current 15-school program in Detroit to 50 of the lowest-performing schools throughout the state.

Three Republicans voted no: Rep. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), Rep. Ben Glardon (R-Owosso) and Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle), and all Democrats voted no. Rep. John Olumba (I-Detroit) joined 56 Republicans in support of the bill after a lengthy speech denouncing his former Democratic colleagues as captive to special interests and ruing a change to the bill that phases in the expansion to 50 schools instead of immediately going to 50.

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel denounced the expansion of the Education Achievement Authority, which Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons defended.

It marked a big step forward for an issue that failed to get off the ground in the 2011-12 term despite a big push from Governor Rick Snyder, who again has made it a top priority. The EAA currently functions through an interlocal agreement between Eastern Michigan University and the Detroit Public Schools, but officials want it in statute with additional features.

Clearly, House Republican leaders were determined to get a bill passed Thursday because the House unexpectedly remained in session for more than seven hours trying to find language that would enable them to find enough votes for passage. Finally, just before 6 p.m., the House adopted three amendments.

And the big change was to allow the school board that oversees a school in the bottom 5 percent of schools to instead put that school under the oversight of its regional intermediate school district to handle the responsibilities and functions the EAA otherwise would have. Depending on the circumstances, the school eventually could still wind up in the EAA if insufficient progress occurs under the ISD.

Another key amendment would ensure if the EAA hires a public school employee who is part of the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System that the employee will remain in MPSERS. That addresses a concern about destabilizing the system.

Another amendment would require notification of schools that the state school redesign officer decides to put into the EAA during the first week in January of that school year.

Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto), sponsor of the bill, said when she walks through her children's school, she knows her children are receiving a good education.

"All across this state many parents can say the same of their kids' schools, and sadly many cannot," she said. "Nothing, nothing breaks my heart more than to see students trapped in schools that fail them year, after year, after year."

Ms. Lyons also said to those opposing the legislation because of lack of evidence proving the EAA works, "there is plenty of evidence showing the status quo does not work."

More than 10 Democrats spoke in opposition to the bill, including Rep. Nathan (D-Detroit).

"What disturbs me is we have not taken the time to determine whether or not this particular model works," he said. "If it does, I'll be the first one to say let's do it. But given the temperature in this room today, how this legislation has moved through the House this session, tells me this is not about making sure these children have the opportunity, this is about much more. It tells me it is about control, it is about wanting to see a certain group of folks in these schools."

Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) said the issues in these low-performing schools include third- and fourth-graders who cannot read and trash that rarely gets taken out.

"I've come to conclusion that something has to be done," he said. "The children in these schools cannot wait any longer."

But Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) said evidence shows the EAA is a "failed experiment." She said the failures need to be examined and "provide the leadership and guidance to input changes that actually fix the problem."

Rep. Margaret O'Brien (R-Portage) countered the speeches from House Democrats were "distracting at best, and dishonest at worst."

Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) said he gets emotional when discussing the topic, because children are being forced to stay in failing schools. He criticized the Democrats for offering the solution of "more money."

"There has been plenty of money," he said.

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) said Thursday morning that Democrats will be announcing education reform bills of their own, with a specific timeline coming during the spring recess.

"This EAA bill is being passed off by Republicans as supposedly meaningful education reform," Mr. Greimel said. "That is not what it is. We as Democrats believe in education reform and we believe we need to do more as a state to turn around our struggling school districts, but the EAA will not do that."

The American Federation of Teachers-Michigan released a statement shortly after the bill passed saying the EAA will not help students learn.

"Lansing politicians have shown once again that they have the wrong priorities when it comes to public education," said David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan. "The EAA's limited history provides no evidence that being thrown into a state-run district is beneficial to schools. In fact, the EAA's own data presented to the Legislature show that most of their students are falling further behind their peers this year - why would we rush to expand this system?"