CNS Budget – April 20, 2018

April 20, 2018 – Week 13

To: CNS Editors

From: Eric Freedman & Sheila Schimpf

http://news.jrn.msu.edu/capitalnewsservice/

For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841; cepak@msu.edu.

For other matters, contact CNS Director Eric Freedman at (517) 355-4729 or (517) 256-3873; freedma5@msu.edu.

UPCOMING #1 FOR EDITORS: Next Friday, April 27, will be our final regular weekly file of the spring semester. You’re welcome to continue using prior stories and visuals from our website.

UPCOMING #2 FOR EDITORS: On Wednesday, May 2, CNS will move a special package of articles about campaign financing reported by our partner, Spartan Newsroom.

UPCOMING #3 FOR EDITORS: On Friday, May  4, CNS will move its end-of-semester Bonus Week budget. These are still-timely stories you may not have had space for when they were first reported.

Here’s your file:

UPDEER: Heavy snows this winter are bad news for the U.P.’s deer population. It’s harder than usual for them to move around and to find nutritious browse, according to the DNR. Adverse effects include death and lower reproduction rates. We also talk to the MUCC vice president who is a trustee for the U.P. Whitetails Association. By Kaley Fech. FOR SAULT STE. MARIE, ST. IGNACE, MARQUETTE, BAY MILLS, CHEBOYGAN AND ALL POINTS.

ADULTEDUCATION: Despite Michigan’s low high school graduation rate, funding of adult education programs remains far lower than needed. Some U.P. residents must drive 50 miles to the closest program. We hear from the Michigan Workforce Development Agency, Northwest Michigan Works! and the Michigan League for Public Policy. By Casey Hull. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, TRAVERSE CITY, LEELANAU, PETOSKEY, HARBOR SPRINGS, BIG RAPIDS, MANISTEE, CADILLAC, MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE, BAY MILLS AND ALL POINTS.

SCHOOLCOUNSELORS: School shootings and other traumatic events highlight a growing workload for public school counselors, with too few therapists amid rising concern about violent incidents and threats in school. Petoskey and Traverse City school experts and the MEA talk about it. By Casey Hull. FOR TRAVERSE CITY, LANSING CITY PULSE, PETOSKEY AND ALL POINTS.

ROADPAYOUTS: Did a pothole just eat your tire and rim? Want compensation? Fuhgeddaboutit. Like the state, counties rarely reimburse motorists for pothole damage to their vehicles. Road officials in Gladwin and Montmorency explain why. The MDOT director says more money for road maintenance would reduce the problem. By Maxwell Evans. FOR MONTMORENCY, GLADWIN AND ALL POINTS.

PEOPLEMOVING: Some rural areas are seeing more folks move in than out. Isabella, Wayne, Missaukee and Grand Traverse are among the counties that lost more residents than they gained while Crawford, Lake, Antrim and Leelanau showed net migration gains. We talk to the Crawford County economic development coordinator, a Mancelona legislator and experts from Northern Michigan University and Grand Valley State University. By Crystal Chen. FOR CRAWFORD COUNTY, TRAVERSE CITY, LEELANAU, BIG RAPIDS, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, LAKE COUNTY AND ALL POINTS.

DISABILITIES: Facilities employing and training people with disabilities face increased regulations that could cut the amount of help they can provide. The dispute focuses on the state’s interpretation of a federal law intended to get more people with disabilities into the general workforce. We talk to program officials in Traverse City and Alpena and to the Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations. By Casey Hull. FOR TRAVERSE CITY, LEELANAU, ALCONA, MONTMORENCY, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.

BREED: Lions and tigers and bears, oh regulate! A Lowell lawmaker wants the state to regulate the breeding of large carnivores by zoos in Michigan, saying it would promote animal safety, health and conservation. The zoo in Grand Rapids likes the idea but the Detroit Zoo doesn’t.We also talk to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and to the DNR. By Crystal Chen. FOR IONIA, GREENVILLE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.

PROJECTS: A pilot program looking for better ways to coordinate repair, maintenance and replacement of Michigan’s roads and other infrastructure is finishing its recommendations this month. The pilot program includes 13 West Michigan counties, including Ionia, Lake, Mecosta, Mason, Oceana, Montcalm, Ottawa, Kent, Allegan, as well as Metro Detroit. We hear from Lt. Gov. Calley and a Snyder advisor. A lawmaker from Walker has introduced related legislation. By Riley Murdock. FOR IONIA, GREENVILLE, LUDINGTON, HOLLAND, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, OCEANA, LAKE COUNTY, BIG RAPIDS AND ALL POINTS.

SCHOOLHOMELESSNESS: Michigan schoolchildren and youths are struggling with homelessness at some of the highest rates in the nation, new studies from U-M and the Michigan League for Public Policy show. The top five counties for child wellbeing are Livingston, Ottawa, Clinton and Oakland. The bottom five are Lake, Clare, Muskegon, Calhoun and Oceana. A Ludington-based nonprofit agency that works with homeless youth tells us more. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, OCEANA, LAKE COUNTY, HOLLAND, CLARE COUNTY, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.

TESTSCORES: Michigan continues to fare poorly on a national education assessment test for fourth- and eighth-graders. We talk to the Education Department and a Wayne State education expert. By Colton Wood. FOR ALL POINTS.

JAILDIVERSION: Lt. Gov. Calley says the state should do more to provide treatment rather than jail for criminal suspects with mental health and substance abuse programs. We hear about pilot programs in Barry County and Kalamazoo that involve mental health agencies, judges, sheriffs and prosecutors. By Colton Wood. FOR ALL POINTS.

CRIMINALJUSTICE: Although the state’s prison population has plunged, criminal justice experts say more can be done to reduce the number of inmates. There’s legislation sponsored by representatives from Williamsbug and Grand Rapids, among other places. The Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending and Lt. Gov. Calley discuss. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR IONIA, SAULT STE. MARIE, MARQUETTE, GREENVILLE, LANSING CITY LIMITS, BAY MILLS, TRAVERSE CITY AND  ALL POINTS.

BOATINGSAFETY: Are Michigan waters getting less safe for boating, with or without motors? The number of recreational boating accidents on inland waters and the Great Lakes increased from 92 in 2013 to 125 in 2016, and the deaths rose from 21 in 2012 to 38 in 2016, according to the Coast Guard. One factor is the sharply rising interest in paddle sports. We talk to the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, the head of the state Waterways Commission, from Grand Haven, and a Hudsonville-based powerboat club. By Agnes Bao. FOR CRAWFORD COUNTY, HOLLAND, LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, OCEANA, TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY, LEELANAU, CHEBOYGAN, CADILLAC, BIG RAPIDS, GLADWIN, GREENVILLE, ALCONA, MONTMORENCY, MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE, CLARE, HARBOR SPRINGS, STURGIS, THREE RIVERS, LAKE COUNTY, HERALD-REVIEW, BENZIE  AND ALL POINTS.

AVIANMALARIA: Researchers from Western Michigan University have found a surprisingly large number of blood parasites that infect Southwest Michigan songbirds with sometimes-deadly avian malaria. Climate change could worsen the problem, according to the scientists who tested 726 songbirds from dozens of bird species in 12 counties. By Eric Freedman. FOR STURGIS, THREE RIVERS, HOLLAND AND ALL POINTS.


FEMMEMUSIC: Female and gender non-conforming artists might not get the recognition they deserve, but passionate local and statewide female and gender nonconforming artists are pushing boundaries, including the organization Girls Rock Detroit, the Metro Detroit band Zilch and Lansing singer V.Soul. For news and entertainment/features sections. By Terri Powys. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.

w/FEMMEMUSICPHOTO: Girls Rock Detroit founders Melissa Coppola, Rosalind Hartigan and Willa Rae. Credit: Rosalind Hartigan

CORMORANTS: It’s legal again to kill cormorants after a year-long hiatus during a  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study. Colonies are found in places like Beaver Island, Ludington, Saginaw Bay and the Les Cheneaux Islands, causing habitat devastation and pushing out other bird species in some places. Critics claim the birds hurt local fisheries, but researchers say their impact on local fishing is exaggerated. The Fish and Wildlife Service and a researcher explain. By Steven Maier. FOR SAULT STE. MARIE, MARQUETTE, BAY MILLS, CHEBOYGAN, ST. IGNACE, ALCONA, TRAVERSE CITY, LEELANAU, LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, OCEANA, PETOSKEY, HARBOR SPRINGS, BENZIE AND ALL POINTS.

w/CORMORANTSPHOTO: Cormorants on this island in the St. Mary’s River in the Eastern U.P. have degraded its vegetation. Credit: Francie Cuthbert.

LIFEAFTERSPORTS: How do college athletes who don’t make it to the pros cope with the transition? Few ever play professionally: only 5.6 percent of men’s ice hockey players join the NHL, only 1.5 percent of football players will play in the NFL and fewer than 1 percent of female basketball athletes will play in the WNBA. We talk to a former MSU club football and track and field player from Newport who now works in IT, a former U-M All American swimmer who now helps athletes transition and a former MSU rugby player from Oxford who now works at a ski resort. For sports and news sections. By Trevor Darnell. FOR ALL POINTS.  

CNS

Regulations threaten services for disabled, nonprofits say

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — Facilities employing and training people with disabilities face increased regulations that will decrease the amount of help they can provide, nonprofit program experts say.

Federal regulations intending to provide disabled residents with more community integrated programs for employment education have vocational rehabilitation facilities worrying that changes may mean less choice for participants.

Vocational rehabilitation facilities around Michigan specialize in working with people  with physical and mental disabilities. The goal is to enable them to find employment. Services include socialization skills, resume building, career planning, transportation assistance and job placement.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 75 percent of the 552,000 persons living with a cognitive disability in Michigan are unemployed. The poverty rate for Michigan residents with disabilities is 28 percent.

Federal law requires vocational rehabilitation facilities to provide more opportunities for work experience in community settings. The intent is to ensure that facilities don’t  isolate participants from the broader population in what are referred to as sheltered workshops.

North Eastern Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center, a nonprofit manufacturing facility in Alpena, employs around a hundred individuals with disabilities, said David Szydlowski, its chief executive officer.

Employees are trained on site by job coaches and receive training to operate forklifts, pay loaders and industrial saws. The program also contracts out employees to provide custodial services to local businesses.

Szydlowski said the problem is the Michigan Department of Community Health’s interpretation of federal law. If the program gets a contract for a local cement plant for two people to move tables, or to paint a room, it cannot assign two disabled individuals to be on that job together.

“In order to comply to the regulations, I’ll have to take away those jobs for disabled workers,” Szydlowski said.

Determination of compliance can vary by local health departments, he said.

“There are community rehab programs across the state and across the nation that are saying that this isn’t an issue and those two people can continue to work together because they are working in the community for a local business,” Szydlowski said.

Todd Culver, the chief executive officer for the Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations, said, “If these rules and regulations are implemented in a way that is not fair to the individuals receiving services, then it can impact the quality of their life.”  

According to Culver, Health and Human Services developed a test for a thousand different environmental settings that facilities may operate in and is determining which ones qualify for Medicaid funding.

“We’re right in the middle of going through that data,” he said

According to Culver, if a program fails the test, there’s an opportunity to follow a corrective action plan.

Rehabilitation facilities argue that the law shouldn’t restrict a participant’s choice in where to go for services.

Another facility which was cited for non-compliance is Grand Traverse Industries in Traverse City. It’s now following a corrective action plan.

“This is a regulatory nightmare,” said Steve Perdue, the facility’s president.

“We’re working through the Home and Community Based Services waiver with our Northern Michigan entity and thus far are optimistic that we are in compliance,” Perdue said. “They’ve gotten back to us on certain issues and we made changes that we believe will have us in compliance.”

The nonprofit’s annual report said 31 percent of its services were conducted outside of its main facility.

More counselors suggested by schools plagued by threats

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING —  Michigan schools are experiencing increased threats of violence in the months following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, when 19 students were killed.

The number of threats or acts of violence in schools is three times higher across the nation since February, according to the Educators School Safety Network, a nonprofit that tracks media reports of violence. It regularly reports Michigan as being in the top 10 in the nation for such incidents.

Two shootings have occurred at Michigan schools since 2016.

In Northern Michigan, police have investigated three potential threats at Traverse City West High School and one at Petoskey High School since mid-February.

Two cases concerned friends who responded to a threat made by a classmate. None of the instances was found to be a credible threat of violence.

“I don’t think the hypersensitivity to threats is a bad thing right now,” said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest union of teachers and other school staff.

“At the root cause of this are students who really need help,” Pratt said. “We need to be able to provide the holistic education for a kid, and that includes taking care of their mental wellbeing.”

In 2015, the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District developed a crisis response team of two social workers and nine psychologists to address the needs that its school often face.

“The crisis team offers training for all the local school districts and academies,” said Carol Greilick, the district’s assistant superintendent of special education.

“Trauma and crisis are in the eyes of the beholder,” Greilick said. “It may be a relatively simple thing, such as a student losing a family member, or it could be a school district losing a student or teacher.”

In response to the sudden death of a teacher last year, the crisis team provided  assistance.

“The team worked with administrators in both districts to plan a response,” Greilick said. “They set up counseling rooms, planned the script for informing students and worked step by step through the response anticipating student needs, family needs and staff needs.”

Addressing student concerns is more difficult with less staff, said Tamara Kolodziej, a guidance counselor at Petoskey High School.

The average ratio for K-12 schools in the U.S. is 482 students per counselor. In Michigan, which has seen a 25 percent decrease in school counselors since 2005, the ratio is 729 students for each counselor.

In response to concerns about school safety and student welfare, the Senate is considering a bill that would allocate an additional $50 million towards hiring more guidance counselors, social workers and armed resource officers.

“Here at Petoskey we have two counselors for a thousand students,” Kolodziej said. “We’re lucky because they’re going to be hiring another counselor next year. We’ve been down to two counselors for the last seven years.”

Guidance counselors are responsible for “data maintenance, scheduling classes, transcripts, communicating with parents and staff —  it’s a lot for two people,” she said.

“Our biggest job is organizing testing,” said Kolodziej.

Those obligations mean that counselors get less face time with students. “We each generally see 10 to 12 students in our office a day,” Kolodziej said.

Kolodziej emphasized the difference between a guidance counselor and a licensed therapist.

Petoskey High School has a licensed therapist practicing on site. Therapy isn’t free but having one on site provides easier access for students seeking mental health services.

Addressing student mental health needs will take adjustments on the part of schools.

“We need to arm educators with smaller class sizes, more counselors and better security measures,” the MEA’s Pratt said.

Students are well aware that the potential for violence exists, Pratt said. “Even at a young age, you have elementary schools going through lockdown drills.”

Teachers and counsellors are not the only ones who should be responsible for students’ welfare, he said. The whole school system is responsible.

“A classroom teacher’s job is to help every student learn the material,” Pratt said.

“We can’t ask educators to do everything,” Pratt said. “They need to be able to assess the situations, but they also need the resources to follow up.”

More alternatives needed for criminal suspects with mental health problems, advocates say

BY COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING — As more communities in Michigan join the fight for jail diversion programs for inmates with special needs, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said he hopes it will soon become a mainstream program.

The Snyder administration created a diversion program to reduce the number of people with  special needs entering Michigan’s corrections system.

“It was informal in the beginning, and then we formalized it part way through our first term,” Calley said. “I served as a chair of the diversion council, and its mental health diversion. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The program works with pilot committees from counties across the state that want mental health-related changes in corrections facilities

“Our system in the past has been a one-size-fits-all approach,” Calley said. “So a person has a negative interaction with the law, they go through the system. If they’re found guilty, they go to jail or go to prison.

“But if a person committed a crime because they have a mental illness that was untreated, I think the criminal justice response needs to be different. It has to include evaluation of what the root cause of the problem was and treat them. That still might some include some jail or prison, but maybe it doesn’t have to,” he said.

Now five years after establishment of the initiative, Calley said he hopes diversion programs will become more mainstream.  

“Right now, it’s in about a dozen communities in the state — trying to prove out the concepts that treating mental illness is better than throwing people in jail who have mental illness,” he said. “It has the same potential that treating addiction has.”

Rich Thiemkey, the chief executive officer of the Barry County Community Mental Health Authority, one of the agencies that maintain a diversion program, foresees diversion programs increasing.

But he said changes to funding and stigmas are needed to further help those with mental illnesses.

“Number one is just stigma, or how people view people with a mental illness,” he said. “And then the second part would be funding of individuals that are in the jail.”

With funding an issue, his agency is constantly looking for grants to help fund the treatment of mental health patients.

One such grant enables the agency to screen individuals for substance abuse and mental health disorders, he said. Some receive services in the jail and some who are diverted will be treated at the agency’s facility.

Thiemkey said that’s called “post-booking because the diversions happen after they walk into the jail. So what we’re trying to focus on this upcoming year is pre-booking.”

Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is one of the biggest diversion programs in the state.

“We have a strict definition of diversion, which is when a mental health worker intervenes, usually with a judge, to come to an alternative disposition, which usually means a bond reduction,” said Robert Butkiewicz, the supervisor of programs at the agency. “Sometimes that means sending someone to a psychiatric hospital. Sometimes it is coordinating care with an adult foster care provider so the person can be safe.”

According to Butkiewicz, people can be eligible for these diversion programs if they are being charged with a misdemeanor.

“When we talk about mental health diversion, we have to separate that from legal diversion,” he said. “Mental health diversion relates to alternatives to incarceration. A legal diversion relates to alternatives to criminal prosecution.

Butkiewicz said the diversion system needs improvements.

For example, he said laws “should be more focused on treatment. If you’re poor and are roped in the legal system, you can hardly pay next month’s rent. You have a $25 oversight fee. You have a $300 legal fee. You have a $100 this and that. And for those who are really poor, you get locked in.”

 

Young people are struggling with homelessness, studies find

LANSING — Schoolchildren and youths in Michigan are struggling with homelessness at high rates, new studies show.

Poverty Solutions, a University of Michigan initiative dedicated to prevention and alleviation of poverty, found Michigan among the states with the largest number of homeless youths — more than 36,000 children in elementary, middle and high schools facing homelessness and housing insecurity.

This report was confirmed by the 2018 Kids Count report– a study by the Michigan League for Public Policy that analyzes and evaluates the wellbeing of children in the state. It  found that in 2016, 444,100 children lived in poverty.

The report ranked 82 of the 83 counties for overall child wellbeing. The top five counties are Livingston, Ottawa, Clinton and Oakland. The bottom five counties are Lake, Clare, Muskegon, Calhoun and Oceana.

Between 2010 and 2016, the Kids Count shows a 23 percent improvement in children homelessness rates. However, more than one in five Michigan children lived in poverty in 2016.

“It’s not a great improvement but it is some improvement. More than one in five children living in poverty really has huge implications on education and health and other indicators of well-being for kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count director.

Despite the slight improvement and the lowest unemployment levels in decades, the Kids Count report said jobs are paying significantly low wages that don’t  keep up with growing inflation rates, causing income levels to remain below pre-recession levels.

According to  U-M’s Poverty Solutions analysis, dropout rates for homeless students are increasing and homeless high school students are particularly vulnerable.

Some areas in the state are affected more than others. In West Michigan, for example, counties like Oceana, Muskegon and Mason have the highest rates of homelessness.

Staircase Youth Services, a Ludington-based nonprofit organization operating in a number of West Michigan counties, said its Oceana County agency is experiencing higher rates of homelessness than other counties in the area.

“I was not surprised by the high number in Oceana County. There is a real lack of housing in Oceana County and the poverty level is pretty high,” said Cynthia Arneson, the executive director of Staircase Youth Services.

The organization works with high school students and youths between the ages of 12 and 21.

“We have a host home program where we place youth that are homeless in a host home within the county so that they can stay in school,” Arneson said.

Participants can stay in the program for up to 18 months while receiving support by the staff.

Poverty Solutions created a map that shows the percent and number of students experiencing homelessness in each Michigan school district and the percentage of low-income students experiencing homelessness.

During the 2015-16 school year, Michigan ranked sixth among states with the most homeless students, after California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois.

Though homelessness is a statewide issue impacting children in rural and urban areas, the highest rates are among students in the smallest school districts, the U-M report said.

Guevara Warren of the League for Public Policy said workforce development and the types of jobs available locally are a big piece of economic security and poverty.

“We still have in this state over 30 percent of children whose families lack full-time permanent work. You see a lot of families who are either working at low wage jobs or are trying to piece together several part-time or seasonal jobs,” she said.

Arneson said that in Oceana County, even if people are employed, the level and amount of income they earn is insufficient for the local housing market.

“So there are people who have jobs, and even if they are working 40 hours a week they cannot necessarily afford to live in the housing that is available in our counties,” she said.

To address the issue of poverty, Guevara Warren says one way to improve economic security for children is to take a generation approach, which ensures that children, parents and caregivers all receive help and support at the same time.

As an example, she said the state has started investing  to improve the child care system, particularly concerning eligibility requirements.

“We have improved that slightly but we’re still really towards the bottom when it comes to child care eligibility in the country,” Guevara Warren said.

She said the state has also improved provider reimbursement rates through child care subsidies but still tends to be at the bottom when it comes to reimbursement to providers.

Michigan reversing prison population boom of ‘90s

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING — Following the closing of some correctional facilities in recent years, the size of Michigan’s prison population is at its lowest in two decades.

Criminal justice experts, however say, there’s still more to be done.

John Cooper, the policy director for the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, a nonprofit public policy organization, said the Department of Corrections’ current recidivism rate of 28 percent isn’t a good measurement of what’s going on in the criminal justice system.

“To have 28 percent of people who got out of prison return still is a very high rate,” Cooper said. “We don’t want anybody to be going back to prison.”

Earlier this year, the department reported that the prison population is below 40,000 for the first time since 1992.

Cooper said there are a number of reasons for that development, including low crime rates, fewer people going to prison and high parole rates.

However, there’s a need for improvement.

“Michigan has a very punitive system,” Cooper said, adding that the state has the longest average length of imprisonment in the country, with an average minimum sentence of  almost 10 years.

“About 13 percent of the prison population in Michigan will never be released because they are serving life sentences,” Cooper said.

A recent law sponsored by Sen. Steven Bieda D-Warren, eliminates the requirement that repeat drug offenders get an increased sentence, up to life in prison without parole. Instead, prisoners would be eligible for parole after serving five years of their sentence.

When it comes to offenders with mental illness, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said the justice response needs to be different.

“Our system in the past has been a one-size-fits-all approach. A person has a negative interaction with the law, they go through the system. If they are found guilty of a crime, they go to jail or prison,” Calley said.

If a person commits a crime because of an untreated mental illness that might include developmental disabilities, addiction or anything that changes the way that the brain works, the justice system response should include evaluation and treatment, he said.

“That still might include some jail or prison, but maybe it doesn’t have to,” Calley said.

 

He heads the Snyder administration’s mental health diversion council that works with sheriffs, prosecutors and judges on programs intended to provide treatment rather than jail for arrestees with mental health and substance abuse problems.

Cooper, of the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, said Michigan doesn’t have  a compassionate release policy for medical parole.

“Many aging prisoners and sick people are not allowed to be released to medical facilities that are more appropriate,” he said. “These are very old and sick people who are no longer a threat to society.”

A set of bills pending in the Legislature would create a compassionate release policy. The bipartisan package is sponsored by a number of representatives including David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, and  Larry Inman, R-Williamsburg.

In terms of re-entry into the community, Cooper said it’s hard to get a job with a criminal record. The unemployment rate for people with a criminal record is 67 percent.

“There are legal barriers to getting employment for people who have been formerly incarcerated. Many employers do not want to hire someone who has a criminal record,” he said.

And at the same time, it’s hard to find housing. “Private landlords can decide to not rent their property, and there are also limitations on the availability of certain government assistance if you’ve got a criminal record,” Cooper said.

The underlying problem is that most people who go to prison don’t have any work history or a high school diploma, he said. If they don’t get an education and/or job skills while they are in prison, it’s going to be hard for them to get a job when they get out.

“The department understands this and is trying to do the best it can,” Cooper said.

The Department of Corrections has created jobs and trade skills training programs and so far, these programs are producing good results, according to reports on the department’s website.

Calley, the lieutenant governor, said that when the criminal justice system started treating addiction, it had a profound impact, and mental diversion programs have the same potential that treating addiction had in improving recidivism outcomes.

“Throwing people in jail does not treat addiction, does not cure addiction. It’s not a willpower issue, it’s a health care issue,” he said. “If we start treating mental health effectively and connect people to gainful employment at the same time, recidivism rates will go even lower.”

More people moving to some rural areas

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Some rural counties are seeing more people move in, Governing magazine data shows, but some experts remain skeptical of a possible trend.

The data shows some counties, such as Isabella, Wayne, Missaukee and Grand Traverse, have lost more residents than they gained while rural counties like Crawford, Lake, Antrim and Leelanau showed growth.

However, numbers in both directions in the 12 months ending in July 2017 were small.

The “net domestic migration rate” refers to the number of people moving in versus those moving out per 1,000 population, according to Governing.

Erich Podjaske, the economic development coordinator of Crawford County, said he doesn’t see a significant number of people moving in, although the county does have plans to attract more workers..

“We are holding development summits, and we have new businesses that are opening, particularly in the trucking and manufacturing area,” Podjaske said.

But the county faces a labor shortage. “We just don’t have enough employees to fill all the positions in every area. Not just engineering, but also soft skills,” he said.

One of the problems is a lack of “nice quality housing,” Podjaske said. “People are moving here and not finding the homes or rentals that they would like.”

It’s difficult to find contractors to build single-family homes, especially because homes in Crawford County aren’t increasing in value and contractors won’t make money on them, he said. To help tackle this dilemma, the county is working on things like multifamily housing, where state assistance could potentially offset some costs.

Recreation is drawing people to some rural counties, according to Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, who lives on a farm.

He said Northern Michigan, which is typically considered rural, has roughly 4.5 million acres of public land, and “it’s fantastic place to recreate.”

“People want to get away from the hustle and bustle in urban environment, and they would rather look at slowly bubbling creek,” Cole said. “It’s a huge draw to Northern Michigan.”

Northern Michigan has hundreds of lakes and streams for fishing, boating and swimming, and some of the most phenomenal lakeshore for recreation, he said — “whether just sitting in the lawn chair, enjoying the sand in the sun, or if you want to swim in the freezing cold water of Lake Superior.”

As for whether public services meet the needs of incomers, Cole said people don’t require public services to survive. “Many folks just desire to be self-sufficient.”

Teresa Bertossi, an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences at Northern Michigan University, said it’s important to be cautious when looking at large-area data in an attempt to understand movements with or between counties.

Urbanization is still a trend, according to Bertossi.

“The overall statistics support that people are still moving to more urban areas, generally speaking, on the planet than ever before,” she said. “Outmigration continues to remain a persistent challenge for many less-developed or more rural places.”

However, Bertossi said her research has demonstrated an apparent pattern of a “sort of” rural gentrification in some non-agriculture-based, rural Lake Superior coastal communities.

“So in a way that does lead to a strain on public services, whereby working class people are forced out of their communities because they can’t find affordable family starter homes,” she said.

Another example of rural gentrification is that within some rural areas with major amenities, like Lake Superior, people are moving from larger cities and building second and third homes in rural places, Bertossi said. That trend contributes minimally to the local economy, leading to higher land values that push working class and lower income people farther away from the lake.

Jeroen Wagendorp, an associate professor at the Department of Geography and Sustainable Planning at Grand Valley State University, said the positive migration rate for rural counties may be due to movement from one rural county to another and not as much from urban to rural counties.

The cost of living in rural counties can be lower than in urban counties.

“If you live in the country, your lifestyle is subsidized by taxes paid by the people living in the city,” Wagendorp said. “The taxes in the city sometimes are twice as high as living in the country.”

Plan to coordinate roadwork expected soon

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING — A pilot program looking for better ways to coordinate the repair, maintenance and replacement of Michigan’s roads and other infrastructure is finishing its recommendations this month.

The recommendations will address ways to implement the program statewide, improving efficiency and saving money. Under the “integrated asset management” concept, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said the state expects all private and public entities involved in public infrastructure to work together to handle projects more efficiently.

For example, Calley said, consider a hypothetical road being repaved in front of the Capitol. Under integrated asset management, all necessary improvements such as water, sewer, cable lines and sidewalks would be coordinated so road is torn up only once.

“It’s the same concept as if you’re having your driveway repaved at the same time that they’re repaving the road in front of your house. It would be a lot cheaper because the equipment and materials are already there,” Calley said. “We think there can be substantial savings.”

Therese Empie, a strategy advisor for Gov. Rick Snyder, staffed the governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission. It looked across the state to figure out what Michigan needs to do to have a world-class modern infrastructure in the next 30-50 years.

“Currently, infrastructure in Michigan exists in silos,” Snyder’s executive directive reads. “There are 700 separate road and drain agencies; 79 transit agencies; 1,390 drinking water systems; 1,080 wastewater systems; 116 electric utilities; 10 natural gas utilities and 43 broadband providers.”

The pilot program, which started in 2017, grew out of a commission recommendation, Empie said. Empie said Michigan is the first state to undertake a program like this.

The long-term goal is for asset management to result in coordination and cost efficiencies for public and private utilities, Empie said.

The pilot program includes 153 participating governmental units in two of the state’s regions, Empie said. The West Michigan region covers 13 counties, including Ionia, Lake, Mecosta, Mason, Oceana, Montcalm, Ottawa, Kent, Allegan, and the Southeast Michigan region covering Metro Detroit participated.

“We had communities as small as a few hundred people participating, to large communities like Grand Rapids,” Empie said.

The pilot program’s recommendations are due to Snyder by the end of the month, Empie said, and the pilot’s final report will be released to the public on May 4.

A bill introduced by Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker to create a Michigan Infrastructure Council to oversee implementation of a statewide asset management system has passed the House, Empie said, and has been sent to the Senate Transportation Committee.

“It’s a lot of exciting work, and we can do it,” Empie said. “It’ll take a little bit of time, but we have a lot of passionate people here who are very knowledgeable throughout the state and at every level of government that are definitely gonna work to get it done.”

Note: Article correct April 23, 2018, to show that Empie staffed  the governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission but wasn’t a member of the commission.

More test scores put Michigan students in bottom half

By COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING —  Michigan lags behind most of the country when it comes to the biennial standardized test given to select fourth- and eighth-grade students, according to a new National Assessment of Educational Progress report.

The report shows that Michigan students in those grades made miniscule improvements from 2015 to 2017 in math and reading on the NAEP test.

And the overall picture is not good: Michigan ranked 38th in fourth-grade math, 33rd in eighth-grade math, 35th in fourth-grade reading and 30th in eighth-grade reading.

In specific scores, in 2017, Michigan fourth-graders averaged 236 on the math portion of the assessment, which was unchanged from 2015 and four points lower than the national average.

Average math scores of eighth-graders increased slightly from 278 in 2015 to 280 in 2017.

Fourth-graders averaged 218 in reading, a two-point increase from two years prior. Eighth-graders improved by a one point in reading, the only score close to the national average.

“We haven’t changed,” said Sarah Lenhoff, an assistant professor of educational leadership and educational studies at Wayne State University. “What that told me was we’re not improving those numbers we saw declining over the years.

“Our scores are stable, which is better than declining, but while Michigan has remained stable, other states are improving their numbers,” she said. “This makes me concerned. We’re being left behind.”

Despite the marginal improvement, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston said he wants to make Michigan a top-10 education state in 10 years.

“It is important that we keep working with intermediate school districts and local school districts to provide support and assistance to help all of their students achieve at higher levels,” he said.

“We keep moving forward on our goal to be a top-10 education state in 10 years and know that the early work we’re putting into motion will pay positive dividends in the very near future,” Whiston said.

Part of that plan, said William DiSessa, a communications officer in the Department of Education, is to focus on the “whole child” to improve student achievement and to make students college- and career-ready by increasing their pathways to success.

“As we implement the plan’s various strategies, we anticipate further academic improvements for students in our K-12 public schools,” he said.

While state education officials say the plan will work, Lenhoff said she isn’t sure.

“I don’t want to say it’s not possible,” she said. But it will require “serious change” from the  Legislature, governor and Department of Education.

“There needs to be adequate resources put forth to fix this,” she said. “Currently, they’re not doing everything they can do to improve the schools.”

Zoos hoping to breed large animals again

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan zoos would again be allowed to breed large carnivores such as tigers and bears under a recently introduced bill.

Since 2000, zoos must take their large carnivores, including lions, leopards, cougars, jaguars, panthers and cheetahs, to states that allow breeding.

The law now prevents animals from mating as they would in nature, said Peter D’Arienzo, the chief executive officer of the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, citing an unintentional drafting error in the 2000 law.

The zoo has already had to move two male breeding-age Amur tigers to facilities in Wisconsin and South Dakota to breed because of the error in the current state law, he said.

D’Arienzo said the bill sponsored by Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, would  provide a regulatory framework that will require all Michigan zoos to maintain high standards, meet specific breeding criteria and help zoos preserve endangered specifies for future generations.

“Conservation breeding programs are a key part of ensuring the preservation of endangered species and large carnivores, including tigers, bears and lions,” he said.

Valid reasons exist for the prohibition, said James Averill, the director of the Animal Industry Division at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

There were issues with large carnivores being owned by people as pets and having issues where they would get away from their owner and killed people,” Averill said.  

Under the bill, an applicant for a license from the department would need to meet specific requirements, including being an organization focused on showing animals for education or exhibition purposes.

The Detroit Zoo, one of the five American Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoos in the state, argues that the bill would put too much responsibility on the state for oversight, which was being handled appropriately by the AZA, according to a statement on the zoo’s website.

Matt Blakely, the director of policy and legislative affairs at Agriculture and Rural Development, said the proposed license is a way that qualified institutions could breed large carnivores in the state.

It does add responsibility to the state, he said, but “I would not say that’s too much responsibility.”

Blakely said the department and Gov. Rick Snyder have no position on the bill. He said allowing breeding can be good for conservation of endangered species.

The bill wouldn’t have any impact on wild animals, said Sarah Cummins, the legislative and regulatory specialist at the Wildlife Division of the Department of Natural Resources.

In current times, we do not allow people to, for example, catch a deer in Michigan and put it in the zoo,” she said. “Any animals that are game animals, or are threatened to endangered, they would not be able to capture them in the wild and put them in the zoo.

But there might be a case where a seriously injured endangered or threatened animal could end up in a zoo permanently for educational purposes, Cummins said.

Averill, of Agriculture and Rural Development, said he doesn’t think the bill would have any impact on animal health.

“From my conservation standpoint, my hope is it will help encourage genetic diversity,” he said.

The bill is now in the House Agriculture Committee.