Opting Out of State Testing – State’s Official Position

There has been some talk in the media, on social networking, and face-to-face about students (via their parents) opting out of state-mandated annual assessments. I wanted to briefly pass along to you the official position of Michigan’s State Superintendent and Board of Education.

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Our school district is measured under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law on these annual mandated assessments. While I personally believe they waste a lot of valuable learning time, serve to narrow the curriculum, and utilize state and school resources that would better serve your children while spending time learning valuable 21st century skills, the fact remains that we are required by law to administer them. Should your child’s school not meet or exceed 95% of students in any grade level or subgroup completing these tests, the school will receive the lowest grade (RED) possible signifying it as a “failing school.”

If you have questions, please bring them to your child’s principal or feel free to contact me in the district administration office. You can also read the parent information on M-Step, the new name for Michigan’s annual assessments, at (PDF reader required):

http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/M-STEP_Parent_Letter_485249_7.pdf

Thank you.

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Proposal 1 Straight Talk

If you’re like a lot of the people I’ve talked with or listened to recently, you’re may be starting to think more fervently about Proposal 1 and wondering why we would increase our sales tax to improve Michigan’s roads.

PC side 1There are some who say Proposal 1 is too complex because it involves Michigan’s roads, Michigan’s schools, the sales tax, and even earned income tax credits for low income families. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Like others who are interested in the quality of our transportation infrastructure, K-12 public schools, and the welfare of our most at-risk students, I’ve taken the time to study Proposal 1 in detail and I’d like to share what I’ve learned. Here’s what it does:

• Proposal 1 increases the sales tax from 6 cents per dollar to 7 cents, bringing our state sales tax in line with the sales taxes paid in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio.

• Proposal 1 substitutes the sales tax on gasoline with a funding stream that directs all tax dollars spent at the pump to transportation purposes.

• The sales tax on fuel provides more than $630 million per year for schools. Proposal 1 replaces the money devoted to schools and prohibits the legislature from diverting school aid funds to four-year universities, which have received $200 million or more from the school aid fund each year since 2011.

• Proposal 1 would also provide additional dollars for schools through the increase in the sales tax, as most of the sales tax revenues are devoted to public education.

• A part of the sales tax on fuel also goes to revenue sharing, to help your local municipality pay for police, fire, and other services. Proposal 1 would replace those revenues through the sales tax increase.

• Many people fear low-income families will bear the brunt of the Proposal 1 sales tax increase because the one-cent increase would represent a larger portion of their family income. Proposal 1 restores a reduction in the earned income tax credit to offset the burden of additional sales taxes families at or near the poverty level.

As you can see, Proposal 1 is complex because it was constructed to make sure schools and municipalities do not suffer because taxes paid at the pump would be dedicated to repairing and maintaining our roads and bridges.

There are a number of resources on the Internet published by groups that both support and oppose Proposal 1. I have previously posted our Board of Education’s position along with the actual ballot language and a clear fact sheet on the issue. To help you further, I’ve posted a link to frequently asked questions. I’ve also scheduled a community forum on Monday, April 20, 2015 from 7 to 8 pm in the Early Childhood Center multi-purpose room.

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Please take time to study Proposal 1 and, above all, please vote on May 5th. One of the primary goals of public education is to prepare young people for participation in our Democracy and your involvement in the electoral process provides a wonderful role model for your children, grandchildren and all the children in our community.

Also see: School boards educating voters about how Prop 1 benefits students with support resolutions

Eric Mockerman, president of the Godfrey-Lee school board, said he thinks a 1-cent sales tax increase is minimal amount to pay for what residents end up getting out of a yes vote for their roads, schools and cities.

“We need to secure this funding to operate our schools and give students a quality education,” said Mockerman, who said the roads have to be fixed for safety and to avoid an impact on commerce and tourism. “K-12 education can’t afford to lose funding.”

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GLPS Board of Education Supports Proposal 1

During its regular board meeting this past Monday, the Godfrey-Lee Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution in support of the road funding proposal that will appear on the May 5 state-wide ballot, along with language condemning the continuing transfer of K-12 funds for other purposes.

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To a person, our Board believes that a sound public education system combined with reliable transportation infrastructure are both critical to our community’s economic well-being and the future of this state. No superintendent or Board of Education wants to ever receive news that a bus transporting students has been involved in an accident due to the conditions of the roads or bridges it is traveling on. In addition, rough roads contribute to more rapid deterioration of our buses which increase our maintenance costs over time.

The Board chose to support passage of Proposal 1 on May 5 because it not only contains a constitutional provision that ensures every penny paid at the pump will go to our state’s roads and bridges, but the one cent sales tax increase will also keep public school funding whole since the portion of the sales tax paid on fuel would no longer be used to fund education.

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The Board also supports Proposal 1’s constitutional prohibition against any additional raiding of the school aid fund (SAF) to support four-year colleges and universities. When Proposal A passed in 1994, it was clear that the SAF was intended only to fund K-12 public schools, but the current and former governor have both supported diverting SAF funds to community and four-year colleges. Unlike public schools, colleges have other avenues to raise revenues and should not be dipping into the SAF.

If the voters approve Proposal 1, the additional penny sales tax will ensure that the sales tax for a gallon of fuel that will be lost to K-12 funding is at least replaced so that our children are held harmless by the road funding change. In other words, sales tax at the pump right now is used to fund schools, local communities and other areas of the state budget. Proposal 1 would guarantee that sales tax at the pump is only used for roads and transportation. Therefore, the added penny tax will ensure the lost funding to K-12 public education at the pump is made up for consistent with current sales tax on goods.

Here is a copy of the actual ballot language and information about the election:

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Graduation rates continue to climb

The State of Michigan has released the graduation rates as of 2014 and overall, the statewide rate for on-time graduation continues to improve.

In our district, Lee High School is to be commended as it’s already excellent, on-time graduation rate has continued to climb the past five years to an all-time high of 95.29%, while the dropout rate has dropped to just 2.35%.  Lee’s graduation rate for 2014 ranks the school 8th in Kent County for the highest graduation rate, out of 52 traditional, charter and alternative high schools. Lee is ranked 11th out of Kent and Ottawa Counties combined.

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East Lee Campus, our quality alternative high school that provides a last chance for students who have fallen behind to earn a diploma and gain valuable work skills, has doubled its on-time graduation rate since 2009-10, reaching an all-time high of 60.47%.

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Our staff, students and parents are to be commended for these results and continuing improvement efforts focused on student learning. Godfrey-Lee’s enrollment has grown by 68% in the past 20 years with a substantial portion of students attending under schools-of-choice. It’s clear based on the graduation rates and other achievement growth factors that we are a “destination district” for students and their parents.

To demonstrate how well district-based, traditional high schools are doing compared with charter high schools in Kent County, the average four-year graduation rate in 2014 for the 24 traditional high schools was 88.1% (median was 92.4%) and for the 13 charter high schools was 54.2% (median 60.7%).

This data and more is available at www.mischooldata.org

Also see Mlive.com’s slide show on the Top 20 graduation rates in Kent and Ottawa counties.

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Shrinking Funding Combined with Growing Regulation

The district receives grant or categorical funding from the state and federal government designated specifically for certain student populations requiring added needs programming. These are typically students who have individualized special education plans, are English language learners, are considered homeless, or have a variety of conditions in school and out of school that would classify them as at-risk of not keeping academic pace with their peers.

Godfrey-Lee is home to many students who are eligible for programming under one or more of these grants. Nearly all of our students qualify for at-risk funding which is also known as 31A. This is state categorical funding that hasn’t been increased in many years and barely covers the many interventions and supports required by eligible students who have fallen behind academically. This year, Governor Snyder is proposing an increase in this funding which, although it won’t make up for the inflationary effects over the years on the original per-pupil grant, will help in some ways to address our 3rd grade reading goals. At the same time, it’s important to note the Governor also proposes a $75 per pupil increase in the foundation grant that provides funding for not only our core academic programs, but also things like our operational costs to keep the lights and heat on in our buildings. Simultaneously, he is proposing cutting two areas (best practices and performance funding) we have come to rely on in providing quality instructional programming in reasonable size classrooms, making the net increase a mere $15 per pupil. When normal inflation is taken into account, it’s actually a loss in revenue from this year to next.

Many of our students are English language learners and under Title III, federal funding which is distributed to our district by the state and then monitored by the state as to how it is used. This is a critical but small amount of funding that has allowed us to provide a basic level of academic supports for our EL learners. It has never been enough to provide a dual academic program that ensures not only that EL learners are developing strong English skills but are also keeping pace with their non-EL peers in the classroom. In fact, most funding from the state and federal government fails to meet the significant needs of the actual learners.

Now comes the state pointing out a new demand allegedly by the federal government that our EL staffing to student ration not exceed 1 to 60. I’m sure their intentions are honest but this again will cause us to have to divert substantial more general fund dollars from our shrinking foundation allowance to shore up the inadequate Title I, Title III and 31A funding. Below is the excerpt pointing out this requirement in a February 11, 2015 memo from the Michigan Department of Education Special Populations Unit:

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It’s this kind of constant state and federal interference that creates problems for individual school districts like ours who have devoted many hours to developing school improvement plans that best utilize the dwindling financial resources being allocated by the state legislature and Congress. But most of the public are unaware of the burden of regulation and requirements that drain revenues and force schools to cut programs and expand class sizes. That’s because those who provide the funding are not honest and up front with the public on what they are doing and why.

But now you know.

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Governor’s 2015-16 budget proposal continues trend of ignoring higher costs

Governor Snyder released his proposed school aid budget this past week, continuing a twenty-year tradition of virtually ignoring the fact that schools as well as any organization (and your own family) face higher costs to operate each year.

As the chart below illustrates, the foundation allowance since 1996 has not come close to keeping up with the normal rising costs due to inflation. This doesn’t even include the impact due to increased administrative and academic requirements over that same period, including growing costs for educating students with special needs, limited English language proficiency, and the negative impacts of poverty and other demographic factors.

Foundation and Inflation

The above chart, as well as the one below, also doesn’t include the current Governor’s trend of providing a modest (below inflation) increase in one area while at the same time taking money from another. His latest budget proposal does just that by promising a $75 per pupil increase in the foundation while substantially reducing the “best practices” funding and eliminating the “performance funding.” Both of these decisions will cost our district $60 per pupil making the net gain (before inflation and normal rising costs) a paltry $15. At the same time, community colleges and four-year universities will be provided an even larger share of the school aid fund, originally intended only for K-12 schools, than they did previously.

Foundation Change

The chart above, illustrates the effects of normal inflation on the school aid foundation grant cuts when compared since Proposal A put all school funding in the hands of the Governor and state legislature.

The Governor and legislative leaders like to point out that the state-created and managed teacher retirement fund requires ever more dollars to make it solvent, hence less dollars for the classroom, or so they say. Just another way to blame teachers. Last year, they did just that in the budget our district is currently operating under, but this week the legislature voted to rescind a substantial amount of that one-time payment in a supplemental K-12 bill to offset declines in projected revenue within the general fund state budget.

In general, the state moves school aid funding from K-12 to community colleges and four-year universities. Then they move general fund money from both to fill holes in the budget in other areas. That’s because it is unlawful to fund non-education state departments with revenues from the school aid fund, so this provides a loophole around that inconvenient truth.

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But now you know the truth.

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Setting the record straight on the Governor’s “huge” K-12 funding increase

Once again, the media jumped on the lead lines coming out of Governor Rick Snyder’s presentation this past Thursday of his 2016 school aid budget. Perhaps you heard it extolled by any one of several local radio or television news reporters. If you did, you likely heard something like: Governor Snyder proposed a huge increase for public schools by increasing the foundation allowance by $75 across the board. Well, it might have been a little different than that, and if you heard it multiple times like I did, you probably realized the exuberant reporter was providing greater emphasis each time on “huge.”

Which it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

Let’s start with the possibility that the Governor’s proposed $75 foundation grant increase was, well, actually $75. That takes our district, a minimum foundation district, to a level of $7,326, the new proposed minimum foundation. Sounds great, doesn’t it?  If it were true, this would provide our district with about $146,175 in new funding for the coming school year, money that could help reduce some class sizes, provide for more tutoring, purchase new textbooks to replace badly outdated ones, or modernize our science class rooms.

But it’s not a $75 per-pupil increase.

At the same time the Governor was selling this as an actual increase in K-12 funding, he decided to eliminate the one-time “reward” funding for academic performance and reduce the so-called “best practice” revenue (although no evidence exists that these were ever actually best practices) by sixty percent. Interestingly, the Governor and legislative leaders in the last two sessions touted their idea of providing one-time funding schemes like these instead of foundation increases. They equated these to corporate reward systems for motivating successful efforts whereas foundation increases, according to their unsubstantiated claims, simply lead only to waste. Of course the irony here is the fact that the Governor paid over $20,000 per year to educated each of his children at some swanky private school. Was $13,000 of that simply wasted? I don’t think he believes that.

Anyway, after the shell game, in terms of dollars to our district this is actually a deduction of $60 per pupil leaving a paltry $15 increase, or a total of only $29,235 in new funding.

But wait a minute, because the story doesn’t end here.

The state-created, and state mismanaged teacher retirement system will soak up another 2.8% of total payroll costs this year, and because staffing costs are the most significant part of our district’s budget, that will amount to an increased cost of approximately $144 per pupil. Now, our $15 in new funding is actually $129 in decreased funding.

And there are other cost factors involved as well. As an organization and largest employer in the Godfrey-Lee community, our district incurs normal increased costs due to inflation and mandated increases such as the cap on our health insurance costs dictated by the state. Along with these costs, the state is compelling the district to change to the new Common Core state standards in math and reading, and we’re also preparing for the next generation science standards as well. The legislature also forced the state education department to change the annual tests this spring. All of these lead to greater costs for training and new materials for teachers and students.

So in the end, the bells and whistles that went off this past Wednesday celebrating (or berating depending on where you lean politically) the Governor’s “huge” public education funding increase were for naught. In fact, they were ridiculous as I’ve just showed you.

And even if you ignore everything but the $75 per pupil change to the minimum foundation grant, it only means the district is finally going to be funded just $2 per pupil more than it was in the 2008-09 school year.

Cue the celebratory fireworks!

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