CNS Budget – April 27, 2018

April 27, 2018 – Week 1

To: CNS Editors

From: Eric Freedman & Sheila Schimpf

For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841;

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


LAST REGULAR FILE FOR THE SPRING: This is our final regular weekly file of the spring semester. You’re welcome to continue using prior stories and visuals from our website.


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


ALSO UPCOMING: 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.


MORE UPCOMING: During the summer we plan to move several packages of Michigan-related environmental stories in partnership with Great Lakes Echo.


Here’s your file:


EARLYLITERACY: Children should be developing literacy skills starting at birth but many parents don’t realize that ages 0 to 3 are critical for future reading success. Michigan is among the bottom 10 states for early literacy. We hear from  the Kent and Ingham intermediate school districts and the MEA. By Agnes Bao. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


BROOKTROUT: Angling for brook trout? Fourteen U.P. counties — Menominee is the sole exception — now have at least one stream where the daily bag limit for brook trout is five  rather than 10. In total, part or all of 36 U.P. streams have the higher limit. DNR explains. By Kaley Fech. FOR SAULT STE. MARIE, ST. IGNACE, MARQUETTE, BAY MILLS, CHEBOYGAN AND ALL POINTS.

w/BROOKTROUTPHOTO: A spring brook trout catch from the Upper Peninsula. Credit:


IMPROVINGSCHOOLS: Thirty-eight of Michigan lowest-performing schools are about to wrap up their first year under a partnership program created to keep them open They had been in the bottom 5 percent for academic performance. They include schools in Lansing, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor, Saginaw and Pontiac. By Maxwell Evans. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.


AFFORDABLEHOUSING: Michigan has a shortage of affordable rental homes for extremely low-income households, according to a national report and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. We talk to a Ludington-based shelter organization and Grand Rapids real estate experts. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR LUDINGTON, OCEANA, MANISTEE, CADILLAC,  LANSING CITY PULSE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, LAKE COUNTY AND ALL POINTS.


LICENSING: A new Mackinac Center for Public Policy report says Michigan unnecessarily requires licenses for too many occupations. A legislator from Mancelona says the state is too heavily regulated, but the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition says some occupations that should be licensed aren’t. The lieutenant governor says it’s important to streamline the licensing process. By Crystal Chen. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, PETOSKEY, MONTMORENCY AND ALL POINTS.


WINE: Predictions are that wine prices will rise because of global problems facing the industry, with 2017 production at its lowest level in 60 years amid poor crops caused by bad weather and wildfires. What does that mean for the prices of Michigan wines? The president of an Old Mission Peninsula winery discusses. By Riley Murdock. FOR LEELANAU, TRAVERSE CITY, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


AUTISMEMPLOYMENT: There’s a high unemployment rate for Michigan adults with autism. Lt. Gov. Calley says the special education system needs improvements to help reduce that rate. We also hear from the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service and a nonprofit community rehabilitation organization in Sault Ste. Marie. By Maxwell Evans. FOR SAULT STE. MARIE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, CHEBOYGAN AND ALL POINTS.


SOLARBILLING: A new order by the Public Service Commission will reduce savings for homes deciding to generate electricity from solar energy, possibly creating a disincentive for homeowners to install solar systems. Some legislators, including ones from Ann Arbor, Potterville and Calumet, want to block it. We also talk to Consumers Energy, the PSC and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association. By Casey Hull. FOR MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE, LANSING CITY PULSE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


SCHOOLDISCIPLINE: A new national study by the General Accountability Office finds that black students, boys and children with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined with suspensions and expulsions. in K-12 public schools. That’s true in Michigan as well, according to the head of the state Civil Rights Department and the ACLU. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.


ELECTRICCARS: Michigan is moving to better accommodate electric cars with upcoming pilot programs by DTE Energy and Consumers Energy. The Michigan Electric Auto Association, Consumers Energy and the Public Service Commission explain. By Riley Murdock. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


PLASTICSTRAWS: Americans use lots and lots of plastic straws, and that’s bad for the environment. Some grassroots group, including ones in Traverse City and Ann Arbor, are pushing to limit them and some restaurants are complying. We talk to the Great Lakes Environmental Center in Traverse City, an MSU expert and an activist.  By Agnes Bao. FOR TRAVERSE CITY, LEELANAU, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


OPIOIDS: The president announced a national opioid emergency last October, but Michigan started tackling the crisis before that. We hear from a Monroe lawmaker who wrote the law making it tougher for children to be prescribed opioids, from Lt. Gov. Calley, from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and from the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network. By Colton WOOD. FOR ALL POINTS.


MONARCHS: State agencies and their partners are working to save the declining monarch butterfly, which is threatened by the black swallow-wort, an invasive vine that resembles the milkweed plants that monarchs need to eat. The invader is found mostly in Southern Michigan but has been spotted in the Grand Traverse, Emmet, Delta and Cheboygan counties. We talk to DNR experts and North County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area that covers .


w/MONARCHSPHOTO1: Black swallow-wort. Credit: Leslie Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut

w/MONARCHSPHOTO2: Monarch on milkweed. Credit: Michigan State University Extension.


FOURDAYSCHOOLS: Some states are moving toward a four-day school week, but Michigan districts show no such trend. The Education Department says only two districts, in Newaygo and Iron counties, have four-day schedules. We also talk to the Michigan Association of School Boards. By Agnes Bao. FOR BIG RAPIDS, MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE AND ALL POINTS.


TERMLIMITS: Are term-limited legislators lazier than colleagues who can run again? A new national study finds that legislators who can no longer seek reelection sponsor fewer bills, are less productive on committees and are absent for more floor votes, on average. This year Michigan has 23 term-limited representatives and 25 term-limited senators. Commentary. For news and editorial pages. By Eric Freedman. FOR ALL POINTS.


WETLANDS: What’s good for the goose – and the duck and the swan – is good for the frog.

A new study done in Ontario and Michigan finds that waterfowl aren’t the only beneficiaries of wetlands management projects and restoration–many other bird and frog species benefit too. Meanwhile, Ducks Unlimited and its partners are working on restoration projects around the state, including recent ones in Lenawee, Manistee, Mason and St. Clair counties and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. By Eric Freedman. FOR BLISSFIELD, LUDINGTON, MANISTEE AND ALL POINTS.


RIVERS&SOYBEANS: What do Chinese soybean farmers have in common with the health of Michigan’s rivers and fish populations? While their relationship may not seem obvious, both are now studied through an emerging concept in scientific research called telecoupling. MSU experts. By Lauren Caramagno. FOR ALL POINTS.

w/RIVERS&SOYBEANSPHOTO: Researchers studied the North Branch of the Paint River in the Upper Peninsula to help develop the decision-support tool. Credit: Andrew Carlson.


QUAGGAS: Scientists using GoPro cameras attached to dedges are documenting the troubling extent of the invasive quagga mussels in Lake Michigan. “It’s like a continuous carpet across the lake,” Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab scientist says. By Kate Hambrel. FOR LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, OCEANA, BENZIE, TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY, CHEBOYGAN, HARBOR SPRINGS, LEELANAU, HOLLAND AND ALL POINTS..

w/QUAGGASPHOTO1: Collecting samples on Lake Michigan. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

w/QUAGGASPHOTO2: Quagga mussels collected in a benthic trawl on board the USGS Sturgeon as part of 2015 Lake Michigan Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative research. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


CATTLETRACKING: Michigan is among the first states to track cattle with ear tags that emit radio signals, a system livestock officials say should be adopted nationwide to track disease outbreaks. The system is important as foreign markets increasingly require such tracking for imported beef. We talk to a Sturgis livestock producer, a Michigan State University animal science professor and a livestock specialist at Michigan Farm Bureau. By Crystal Chen. FOR STURGIS, THREE RIVERS AND ALL POINTS.



Calls for national cattle tracking system follow Michigan’s success

Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan was the first state to implement a mandatory cattle traceability program.

Michigan was prompted in 2007 by an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis to better track beef and dairy cattle from the farm to the consumer.

All Michigan cattle must be identified with radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags before they are moved. The tags are scanned by readers when they leave a farm or go to a slaughter house. A state database tracks their location.

Cattle tracking should be done nationwide, said Daniel Buskirk, an associate professor of animal science at Michigan State University.

“There are diseases in the live animal that I’d like to be able to track back, things like bovine tuberculosis or foot-and-mouth disease,” Buskirk said. “If it’s found, I want to know what the origin of it is, so that we don’t spread it further and cause losses of livestock.”

Michigan has 1.14 million head of cattle , according to the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Michigan cattle and calves cash receipts totaled $529 million in 2016.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently reported that only four states mandate cattle traceback systems. The other three are Texas, South Dakota and Wisconsin, but each of their systems is different. International markets are driving the need for tracking cattle, said Ernie Birchmeier, the livestock and dairy specialist at the Michigan Farm Bureau.

The association estimates that 61 percent of global beef exports come from countries with effective national traceability systems.

“There are a lot of discussions going on across the United States right now regarding implementation of a national animal ID system,” Birchmeier said.

Livestock traceability was the main topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture in Denver, he said. “And there was broad consensus from the group that we need to move forward and implement a cattle traceability program in the country.

“There will be distractors, and there will be those who don’t want to follow the program, but the international market ultimately is going to dictate traceability in our cattle industry. Our foreign partners want to know where the animals came from, the type of feeding programs,” Birchmeier said.

If Michigan didn’t have a system, it would be extremely difficult for the state to not only export beef, but also export cattle or market cattle outside the state because of bovine TB, Buskirk said.

“Other states would not be interested in buying cattle from Michigan, so that will ultimately hurt our markets,” he said.

The system allowed the state to resume supplying other states that had barred Michigan cattle when the bovine TB problem started, said Monte Bordner, the owner of Bordner Farms in Sturgis.

Bordner was an early supporter of the program.

It didn’t immediately catch on:  “Change terrifies people,” Bordner said. Some people didn’t want to pay $3 for a each tag.

“Some people don’t want any government involvement in anything.”

According to the national association report, 95 percent of Michigan cattle producers comply  with the tracking program.That, Buskirk said, is “pretty good.”

“Regardless, in my opinion, it’s a fairly small price to pay to have export markets that add more value to our products in the long term,” Buskirk said.


Michigan faces affordable housing shortage

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has a shortage of rental homes that are affordable and available to extremely low-income households, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

Its study found that 71 percent of extremely low-income renter households in the state spend more than half of their income on housing costs and utilities.

We’re seeing more and more people who maybe precariously housed, being at greater risk of becoming homeless,” said Eric Hufnagel, the executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, a nonprofit organization of emergency shelters and transitional housing programs.

Hufnagel said the cost of housing is going up, and it’s getting more difficult to afford or keep housing.

“The housing market is tougher. Fewer units and higher costs are pushing more and more people to the point where they may become homeless,” Hufnagel said. And when people live from paycheck to paycheck, any economic downturn can put them at risk of losing their housing.

The national coalition’s 2018 report shows that households whose incomes are at or below the poverty line spend more than half of their income on housing. Its recent report said poor households are more likely than other renters to sacrifice necessities like healthy food and health care to pay the rent and to experience “unstable housing” situations like evictions.

The national study found that, on average, a Michigan household must earn $16.24 per hour (working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) or have a $33,775 annual household income to afford a two-bedroom rental home without paying more than their income.

In some communities, not everyone working 40 hours a week can afford housing.

For example, Cynthia Arneson, the executive director of a Ludington-based shelter called Youth Staircase Services said, “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.

The organization serves Lake, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Wexford and Oceana counties.

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition says the housing crisis “isn’t just about affordability—it’s about economic mobility, too.”

Adam Sheren, a real estate agent with the Adley Group Realty & Development in Ludington, said housing in West Michigan is a concern, and the major difficulty is that it’s tough to lure major housing developers to the city.

“It’s very hard for a community such as Ludington to attract big-time developers because they don’t see the dollars,” Sheren said. “For them to come and do a project here, there has to be a ton of incentive.”

In Michigan, Sheren said rent for a two-bedroom apartment in rural communities ranges between $600-$850 a month, and in the city prices can go up to $2,000.

Jana Cooper, from Third Coast Development, a Grand Rapids-based commercial real estate firm, said the company has two affordable housing projects under construction in Grand Rapids. One is set to open in August 2018.

The apartment complex will feature 165 one- and two-bedroom units priced to be affordable to households of mixed income levels.

Sheren said it’s hard for many local developers to break into the development game even though they have the skills and the desire to do so. Because they don’t have experience, they aren’t always aware of available grants and financing opportunities.

In Mason County, Sheren said initiatives such the Growth Alliance and the Vacant Property Campaign have done a good job of understanding the need for local developers.

Those initiatives, brought in by local groups, conduct marketing campaigns to show local developers the opportunities around the area and help them meet with local stakeholders.

“Municipalities should assist developers in finding properties, development opportunities, grants or whatever it may be so that they can address these affordable housing issues,” Sheren said.

Instead of trying to attract developers from Grand Rapids or out of state, Sheren said the key to solving the housing problem is working with people already in the community who have a vested interest in seeing that community flourish.

“Provide them with a team and tools and incentives — whether it’s tax reductions, a grant or being a voice between them and organizations like the Michigan Economic Development Corp. — so somebody in the local community can get a project done,” he said.

New invasive plant plan fights monarch nemesis

Capital News Service

LANSING —  A new invasive species management plan may help state agencies combat intrusive plants — and rescue wildlife at risk.

That’s good news for the monarch butterfly which has declined in numbers and lost its habitat because of  the black swallow-wort. The invasive vine displaces milkweed, the butterfly’s source of food. It is also poisonous to monarch caterpillars.

The vine grows predominantly in Southern Michigan. It has been also reported in a couple of counties in the northern Lower Peninsula and one in the Upper Peninsula. Experts fear it’s spread.

“Invasive plant species in Michigan generally start in Southern Michigan and hitchhike up into Northern Michigan by way of people or being spread by wind,” said Sue Tangora, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forest health and cooperative programs section supervisor.

The World Wildlife Fund of Mexico reports that the monarch population has decreased by 15 percent in the past year.

After their winter migration to Mexico, monarchs are more densely clustered, making it easier to count them. In summer, they spread across most of the eastern United States with the majority located from South Dakota to eastern Connecticut.

A group of Midwestern nonprofit and government groups met twice in 2016 in Michigan to plan how to help the butterflies recover, said Mike Parker, of the DNR’s wildlife division.

The pillars of the plan are “habitat conservation, education and outreach, monitoring and research, policy review and promoting collaborative partnerships,” said Parker, the divisions conservation partners specialist.

Creating a sustainable grassland habitat for monarchs requires milkweed and wildflowers.

“Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat, but adult monarchs eat the nectar that wildflowers provide,” Parker said. “It’s essentially the carbohydrates they need to make their 2,000 mile journey back to Mexico.”

Grasslands are a natural ecosystem for milkweed and wildflowers, but invasive species can overtake a natural ecosystem if there’s nothing there to eat them.  

“There are a lot of invasive species that impact grasslands, but the black swallow-wort is probably the most concerning at this point,” Parker said.

Michigan’s Terrestrial Invasive Species State Management Plan is a partnership among the DNR and departments of Agriculture & Rural Development and Environmental Quality.

The plan outlines the need to collaborate to quickly prevent, detect and remove new species early.

Black swallow-wort grows quickly and is toxic to both caterpillars and mammals. It produces seed pods similar to milkweed seed pods, said the DNR’s Tangora.

And monarchs lay eggs on the black swallow-wort.

“Unlike milkweeds, swallow-wort does not provide the same nutrition for caterpillars that milkweed does,” Tangora said.“The eggs hatch, but they are unable to feed on the black swallow-wort and don’t survive.”

Swallow-worts also push out indigenous milkweed, removing habitat for monarchs to lay eggs. “Any place where you have swallow-wort, it has a tendency to dominate that system,” Tangora said.

She said a combination of herbicides and plucking seed pods before they open is the best way to control its spread.

Regional cooperative invasive species management areas are working to prevent the spread of invasive species.

“We’ve been lucky that we haven’t found any black swallow-wort in this area,” said Vicki Sawicki, the coordinator for the North County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area which covers Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Osceola and Wexford counties.

“Right now we’re just getting the word out regarding what it looks like,” Sawicki said.

She believes it’s  likely that black swallow-wort is in the area but hasn’t been spotted yet.

“I’ve seen it in fields from other areas and it’s very nondescript. If you don’t know what it looks like you’ll look right past.”

Black swallow-wort has also been reported in Delta, Grand Traverse, Emmet and Cheboygan counties, according to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network and the University of Michigan Herbarium.

Tangora said the monarch isn’t on the endangered list but is a species of greatest conservation need. A species of greatest conservation need has low or declining populations and needs human intervention and sometimes legal protection.

Solar power changes cause critics to sizzle

Capital News Service

LANSING — A new order by the Public Service Commission (PSC) will reduce savings for homes deciding to generate electricity from solar energy, according to some lawmakers.

And that means less savings and reduced incentives for anyone hoping to save money by adding solar panels to their home.

The solar power community is upset by the change and some legislators are attempting to reverse the effect of the ruling.

Under the order, utility companies will have to pay solar households only the wholesale cost for the energy they produce. Utilities must pay a household or small business for putting energy into their grid. Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are the two largest servicers of solar households in the state.

Most individuals generating their own energy are still connected to the power grid as a backup source of electricity for cloudy days and at night. During the day, excess electricity flows into the grid and solar system owners are credited for that energy by their utility.

Under the new system, the energy going into a household from a utility company will cost the full rate. Energy from the solar household going into the energy grid will be paid at a lower wholesale rate.

PSC staff estimate that solar households will be paid about 10 cents a kilowatt hour. At that rate it would take solar households an additional two to three years, or about 33 percent longer than with current rates, to cover the cost of installing solar panels.

The new policy begins on June 1 and affects only homes and businesses that install new solar systems. Existing contracts will remain valid and unchanged for up to 10 years.

Legislation in the House Energy Policy Committee would repeal any grid charge and block the changes approved by the PSC.

“They have not taken the time to properly weigh the pros and cons of solar energy and because of that, they have come up with a rate that is lopsided,” said Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, one of the sponsors. “That’s a big reason we introduced the bills.”

The co-sponsors include Reps. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, and Tom Barrett, R-Potterville.

The PSC was directed to create the new system by a state energy law in 2016. The commission  was told to develop a new metering program that allows energy companies to make money on their services and that reflects a customer’s fair and equitable use of the grid, said Sally Talberg, the chair of the PSC.

“The commission looks forward to working with stakeholders who may propose refinements or new data and with the Legislature if it seeks to pursue a different approach,” she said.

Rabhi said the proposed metering program fails to accomplish what the Legislature ordered.

“In the legislation that created the grid tariff, it was pretty clear that the Public Service Commission had to take into account the benefits that solar brings to the grid,” such as economic and environmental benefits, Rabhi said.

“Then there are the more tangible things such as providing energy to the grid during the daytime when energy is needed most.”

“The real problem is that they have put into place an interim rate. They have changed the rate in such a way that the benefits of solar are not factored in,” Rahbi said.

Utility companies say that solar households should be paid for the electricity they produce at an equal price to large-scale utilities.

Brian Wheeler, the senior public information director for Consumers Energy, said, “If you want to look at a home with a solar array like a power plant, they both serve as power generators and both will receive the wholesale rate moving forward.”

Like a home in this example, a power plant draws energy from the grid to operate, he said. And just like a solar home, it generates more energy to put back in the grid.

“Just like a power plant, anyone’s home or a customer of ours, they’re paying the price that represents the cost of generating and then distributing energy throughout the grid,” Wheeler said.

John Sarver, a board member at the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, said, “Right now the rate is around 15 cents a kilowatt hour. We believe that metering, as it’s structured now, is fair.”

“There are benefits to when homeowners invest their own money in a solar system and put their excess production on the grid,” Sarver said.

One such benefit is that household solar arrays produce the most energy during the summer and can assist with increased demand on the energy grid by air conditioning units.

Sarver said he doesn’t believe that the smaller payments will have an extensive negative impact on new solar power users. “People will still buy systems even if the return on their investment is lower.”

An alternative to working with utility companies is to purchase batteries to store the generated power.

“If we’re not careful with new policies, we may be encouraging people to take a serious look at batteries and store the power on site, and that doesn’t help anybody,” Sarver said.

“The economics of going off the grid is debatable, but the technology is certainly there.”

State ramps up opioid response

Capital News Service

LANSING — Last October, President Donald Trump called the nation’s opioid crisis a public emergency.

Now, six months after his announcement, Michigan has taken more steps to strengthen the state’s battle against opioids.

“The news has definitely been reporting on the opioid crisis for a while now, and, yes, it continues,” said Monica Gonzalez-Walker, the clinical implementation and engagement manager of Michigan OPEN — the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network.

Data published by the governor’s office says the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed has decreased by 10.7 percent since 2015. For the first time since 2011, the total number of controlled substance prescriptions dispensed in Michigan dropped to below 20 million.

“The decrease is a result of our partnerships and collective efforts to raise awareness among patients and health professionals,” said Shelly Edgerton, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. “We, along with our partners, will continue our targeted education and outreach efforts to fight back against this devastating public health crisis.”

In 2015, 10,833,681 opioid prescriptions were written in Michigan, contrasted with 6,670,989 in 2017.

“These figures are promising indicators for our continuing efforts against the opioid epidemic in Michigan,” Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said. That means “less potentially addictive opioids in our communities.”

Calley chaired the governor’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force.

To continue that trend, he said there’s a need for “a conscientious approach to prescribing and dispensing while managing care for patients.”

Even before Trump’s announcement on the opioid crisis, Rep. Joseph Bellino Jr., R-Monroe, had introduced legislation to assist in Michigan’s battle against opioids.

“My district got opioids early — 10, 12 years ago,” he said. “Now, it’s everywhere in the United States. It’s affected my family — I lost a cousin. It affected my work. It affecting my community, my school. It’s hurt all of us.”

Last December, Gov. Rick Snyder signed Bellino’s bill that restricts the amount of opioid prescriptions given to children.

“My bill says if you’re a minor, you have to have your parent or guardian’s signature OK’ed for the doctor or provider to give you an opioid for pain, Bellino said.

Several other restrictions on opioids will be put into place later this year. On June 1, health care providers must be registered in the Mandatory Michigan Automated Prescription System before prescribing controlled substances.

As of July 1, doctors treating patients with acute pain won’t be able to prescribe more than a seven-day supply of an opioid within a seven-day period.

Partnership agreements help failing schools avoid closure

Capital News Service

LANSING — Thirty-eight of Michigan’s lowest-performing elementary and secondary schools are about to wrap up their first year under a partnership program created to save them from closure.

In 2017, the state’s School Reform Office announced that the schools, which had been in the bottom 5 percent for academic performance for three years in a row, were at risk of being shut down.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District had 16 schools in danger of being closed, while Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Saginaw and Kalamazoo all had multiple public schools on the original list.

Facing public backlash, the Department of Education instead chose to partner with those districts to improve academic performance.

The Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel, has “always preferred” finding an alternative to school closures, said David Crim, the MEA’s communications consultant.

“We were supportive a year and a half ago when [state Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston] announced the creation of these partnerships, and we’re still supportive,” Crim said.

Under a partnership agreement, a district remains in control of its schools, with additional support from the department and local partners like colleges, community foundations and businesses.

That level of community involvement is crucial to the agreements’ — and the schools’ — success, said William Disessa of the Department of Education’s Office of Public and Governmental Affairs.

“The partnership agreements are designed to be positive and collaborative in nature,” Disessa said. “Working together, partnership districts and schools have a real opportunity to succeed.”

In late March, 21 districts entered discussions with a goal towards signing their own partnership agreements, including ones in Baldwin, Grand Rapids and Flint.

Of those 21, 16 are public charter schools. The MEA’s Crim said the union “railed against” that fact, saying it was proof of the state’s misguided investment in “failing for-profit charter schools.”

“We’re very concerned about the money we’re spending on corporate charter schools which end up on these partnership lists,” Crim said.

Improvement in state English/Language Arts and math test scores is a “common thread” among the partnership agreements, but every agreement is tailored to individual districts’ needs, said Dedrick Martin, the Education Department’s school reform officer.

“There could be a number of systemic issues, whether that’s getting enough certified teachers, changes to the curriculum or training that teachers need, instructional coaches, data systems — each district will have their own unique fingerprint on their partnership agreement,” Martin said.

Martin was hired as school reform officer in October 2017 and wasn’t involved with creating any of the current agreements. Since even the earliest adopters have yet to finish their first full year, he said it’s too soon to gauge the agreements’ success.

Seven districts signed partnership agreements last October, including Lansing Public Schools, which entered five schools into its agreement.

Three of Lansing’s schools — North Elementary, Woodcreek Achievement Center and Gardner International Academy — entered the agreements on an optional basis. That means the schools’ performance wasn’t poor enough to require a partnership agreement now, but was so low that they might require one in the future, Disessa said.

Lansing’s agreement provides assistance from the department, the Ingham Intermediate School District and 18 community groups like the Lansing Promise and the Capital Area College Access Network to meet the benchmarks.

Among many other benchmarks, Lansing’s schools must see a 5 percent increase in students who test at their grade level in reading and math by fall 2019, and reduce the number of suspensions by 20 percent by 2021.

For all participating districts, schools have 18 months to show improvement on “intermediate” goals. At that point they enter another 18-month review period to complete the agreement. Failure to meet their benchmarks puts districts right back where they were — facing closure.

Martin said closure isn’t off the table for schools that fail to meet their goals after three years. However, he indicated the department is taking a more “holistic” approach to these agreements, and may grant more time to districts that have shown significant — if not total — progress.

“If a person sets a goal of losing weight, and they want to lose 15 pounds in a month, do you tell them that they’re unsuccessful because they only lost 12?” Martin said. “No. They keep with the same program, and you give them a little more time to do it.”

Four-day school week not coming to a school near you

Capital News Service

LANSING – Some states are moving toward a four-day school week but local districts in Michigan show no inclination to change their regular five-day school schedule, experts say.

“It’s a tough decision to make,” said Jennifer Smith, the director of government relations at the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Michigan requires districts to have at least a minimum number of school hours and days, Smith said. According to state law, K-12 public school instruction should run for at least 180 days and 1,098 hours each school year.

“They [the districts] need to figure out how to get 180 days included if they’re only doing a four-day week,” Smith said.

Whether to adopt the four-day week depends on districts and their community decisions, Smith said.

For rural districts, the four-day week can cut transportation costs, she said.

A couple of years ago, several districts in the state tried the four-day week but it didn’t work out, said Don Wotruba, the association’s executive director.

And parents aren’t particularly fond of the idea, Wotruba said.

Big Jackson in the Northwest Lower Peninsula and Republic-Michigamme in the Upper Peninsula’s Iron County are the only two districts in the state that operate on a four-day school week, according to the Department of Education.

“We’ve never had any complaints about not having school on Friday,” said Kashmir Aprile, the secretary of the Big Jackson Public Schools in Newaygo County. It’s one of the only K-5 districts in the state, and upper grade students attend school in Big Rapids.

“A lot of families love it [the four-day week] because it gives them a three-day weekend,” Aprile said. The extra day off is good for family reunions and recovery from the weekdays.

Teachers also benefit from the four-day week, she said. A three-day weekend is convenient because it gives them an extra day to better prepare for their classes.

The district runs its schools from Monday to Thursday and has one half-Friday a month to meet the required school hours.

The Republic-Michigamme district operates its schools from Tuesday to Friday, with one hour and 10 minutes longer each day to meet the state’s requirement and ensure that students receive the same amount of instructional time as in regular five-day week, according to the district.

The district said it’s saved more than  $1 million since the four-day school week started in the school year of 2004-05. The savings included electricity, water, heating fuel, gas and bus drivers’ wages.

The School Board Association’s Smith said the four-day school week should be a collaborative decision between a district and community.

If parents aren’t satisfied with the four-day decision, the district should weight other options, Smith said.

More students of color disciplined in Michigan

Capital News Service

LANSING — An analysis of the U.S. Department of Education’s national civil rights data shows widespread disparities in the way public schools discipline students of color and those with disabilities.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, analyzed data for the school year 2013-14 and found that black students, boys and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined in K-12 public schools.

In Michigan, Agustin Arbulu, the executive director of the state Department of Civil Rights, said that the situation is similar to that in other states, and part of the reason is the low  percentage of teachers of color.

“Approximately 83 percent of teachers in public school settings are white, while the number of African-American teachers continue to decline — I think it’s about 6.5 percent. Hispanic teachers are somewhere around 7 percent,” Arbulu said.

The GAO study found that disparities were consistent regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty or type of public school. Black students accounted for 15.5 percent of all students, but 39 percent of students suspended from school — an overrepresentation of about 23 percent.

Rodd Monts, the field director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said some of Michigan’s policies facilitated the strictness of disciplinary measures against Black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities.

“Our zero-tolerance policy and lack of alternative discipline strategies were primarily to blame,” Monts said.

Zero-tolerance is a policy that started with a 1994 gun-free schools law that requires schools that get federal aid to impose harsh punishment such as suspension or expulsion when students break certain rules.

In 2015. the ACLU, in partnership with other advocacy groups, conducted a study similar to the GAO’s. It collected data from 40 districts across the state and found that in many cases, suspensions and expulsions from suburban districts were more disproportionate than in other districts.

“I get a lot of complaints from suburban school districts and charter school districts,” said Monts.

Arbulu agreed and said that wealthier school districts, where 90-plus percent of students are white, have the greatest problem.

“We have seen that in the complaints that we have received, where students of color who go to school districts that are primarily white, file complaints based on racial discrimination claims,” he said. He added that school districts should develop space for dialogue so minority students can feel included.

The GAO report noted that disciplined students who get removed from the classroom are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out and get into the juvenile justice system. And that could create costs for society, like incarceration.

The ACLU’s findings, coupled with the efforts of other advocacy groups and people in education, law enforcement and the court system, prompted the Legislature to abolish the zero-tolerance policy. The change took effect last August.

Now, Monts said, schools must give greater consideration of the factors that lead to misconduct before suspending or expelling a student.

Arbulu said the vast percentage of teachers who are white may not be equipped to understand different cultural factors and socio-economic factors that many students of color come from.

“If you have 80 percent-plus teachers that are white, they’re coming from a totally different perspective. They’re coming from a narrative that’s quite different than what an African-American student faces,” he said.

Whether a student is African-American, Latino or Arab-American, Arbulu said education leaders should more actively provide training on how to address those issues among administrators, teachers and school board members.

“A lot of factors come into play — the role of implicit bias, the role of structural racism that’s built into education and should be dismantled in a way that can be responsive to the changing makeup of the student population,” he said.

Therefore, there’s a need to increase the percentage of minority teachers, especially African-American teachers, by attracting them to the profession and keeping them there, Arbulu said.

The Civil Rights Commission will hold a series of hearings across the state on the connections between civil rights and education starting in Ypsilanti on May 21.

The GAO report analyzed discipline data from nearly all public schools for the school year 2013-14 and interviewed officials from five districts and 19 schools in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Texas.


Campaign against plastic straws picks up speed

Capital News Service

LANSING – People like plastic straws, but they’re not good for the environment, experts say.

Using plastic straws “cause problems in a variety of aspects,” said Mick DeGraeve, the director and senior environmental scientist at the Great Lakes Environmental Center based in Traverse City.

“Straws are small, and people just inadvertently or intentionally leave them lying on the sidewalk,” said DeGraeve, adding that they not only spoil natural beauty but also harm wildlife. Animals might ingest plastic straws that aren’t digestible.

Every day, Americans use 500 million plastic straws — enough to fill over 125 school buses — according to a report from the Eco-Cycle, a nonprofit recycler based in Boulder, Colorado.

“The plastic straws are kind of sturdy because they hold together for long time,” DeGraeve said. “If they end up in the Great Lakes or in the environment, they’re going to be there for a decade at least.”

However, environmental problems caused by plastic straws aren’t easily fixed by recycling, said Kerrin O’Brien, the executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition.

“There is no program that I know in the state that actually will recycle the straws,” O’Brien said. The reasons could be the shape of straws and that they’re too small to separate from other types of plastic and easily fall through the sorting mechanism.

Because plastic straws are hard to recycle, O’Brien suggested reusable ones instead.

And automatically providing a plastic straw should be a thing of the past, she said. “I would like to see eating and drinking establishments ask first before they assume people want to use a straw.”

In response to the problem, the Last Plastic Straw Committee TC, a group in Traverse City, has launched a campaign that calls on the public to reduce the use of straws.

A similar campaign is also operating in Ann Arbor organized by Stop the Straw, a student activist group from the University of Michigan.

Jeffery Elsworth, an associate professor in the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University, said restaurants are putting more effort into moving away from plastic straws and informing customers about their negative impacts.

Instead of automatically bringing customers plastic straws, more restaurants provide straws when customers ask, Elsworth said.

However, some customers complain about the absence of plastic straws in restaurants, he said. “It’s a habit for them to use straws, and they use them for different reasons.”

Therefore, providing paper straws could be a solution, but price is another concern, Elsworth said.

While a paper straw costs about 1 to 2 cents apiece, a plastic straw costs less than half a cent, he said. “If you are buying 20,000 straws in a case, it’s essentially a difference in price.”

To raise public awareness of plastic pollution caused by straws, the Great Lakes Environmental Center’s DeGraeve suggested improving education about environmental protection in schools and homes, as well as posting informational signs in public areas.

In addition, DeGraeve said a ban could be an effective way to deal with plastic straw pollution.