More students of color disciplined in Michigan

By GLORIA NZEKA
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.

 

Schools push early literacy for young children

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – Parents have great impact on developing and improving children’s literacy, but most of them are insufficiently aware of it, experts say.

Early literacy is essential to future success. Students who fail to master reading skills by third grade will continue to struggle in high school, and thus be at high risk of dropping out, according to a report from the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Michigan is among the bottom 10 states for early literacy, according to the Education Trust-Midwest, an advocacy organization based in Royal Oak.

To improve early literacy, the state passed a third-grade reading law in 2016. It calls for holding back third-graders who fail the grade-level state assessment in reading in 2019-20.

The law has its critics, including the Michigan Education Association (MEA).

“We do not believe retention is a solution to reading deficiency,” said David Crim, a communications consultant for the union that represents teachers and other school personnel.

The MEA is working with early elementary teachers who focus on reading to improve the recent reading law, Crim said. “Once we get these responses, we will be sharing them with legislators so that legislation can be drafted to correct the law’s deficiencies.”

One solution to reading deficiencies is parental involvement, experts say.

“Parents or caregivers can greatly impact a child’s later success with reading,” said Sarah Kugler, an early interventionist in the Early On program at the Kent Intermediate School District.

Reading to babies and toddlers builds language, thinking, social and emotional skills, which are important to develop early literacy, Kugler said.

However, “I don’t think that parents understand that a child’s literacy skills start developing at birth,” she said. “From birth to 3, they are usually most concerned with sleeping, eating, walking and talking.”

Kugler said the problem exists especially for “parents who are struggling with basic needs like food, clothing and shelter, and they don’t or can’t think about a toddler’s communication delay until their basic needs are met.”

To improve parents’ awareness of literacy skills from birth to 3, the Kent district has Early On and Bright Beginnings programs to support early intervention, she said.

The Ingham Intermediate School District has a Great Parents, Great Start program, which enhances family-child interaction and encourages reading 30 minutes per day, according to the district.

Shelly Proebstle, the district’s literacy consultant, said the schools are working hard to deepen parents’ awareness but it could be hard for some parents to get involved in a read-at-home plan.

In addition, rather than having teachers come to the Ingham district to learn how to improve early literacy, “we go out into the classroom to provide them with professional development,” Proebstle said.

“We are looking closely at what interventions are being used for students who are struggling with reading, and we develop an individual reading improvement plan and share it with their parents,” she said.

GR Montessori at North Park, a public school with two campuses in Grand Rapids, is connected to its parents, said Mary Fridsma, the president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

Working closely with parents can make students feel supported by the community, Fridsma said.

The school communicates with parents through a Facebook group, she said. “When they have concerns, they typically go direct to the teachers.”

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.”

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.

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.”

Michigan families get $70 million for child care

By MAXWELL EVANS
Capital News Service

LANSING — An influx of federal money is expected to put more children from Michigan’s struggling families into child care programs.

Families who meet eligibility requirements, including an income cutoff and employment or high school completion, are able to receive a state subsidy to help with the costs of child care.

Because of the positive effects that quality care can have on children, all families should have a chance to take advantage of it, said Gilda Jacobs, president of the Michigan League for Public Policy, a progressive think tank focusing on social issues.

“The costs of child care are so huge that most low-income people really cannot afford high-quality child care,” Jacobs said. “It needs to be subsidized, it needs to be available, and there needs to be transportation to it.”

Help is on the way for low-income residents. The spending bill signed by President Donald Trump in March boosted funding for child care assistance. The league estimates new  funding will approach $70 million in Michigan.

That could mean up to 3,500 more children receiving assistance to attend child care.

That’s the good news. The bad? The number of families receiving child care assistance from the state dropped dramatically for years and is only now starting to rise again, falling from nearly 70,000 in 2003 to 18,381 in 2017 according to state data.

The league is pushing the Legislature to raise the income cutoff for assistance to 200 percent of the poverty level. The current cutoff of 130 percent puts many low-income families in a bind, said Audrey Marvin, the owner of Stepping Stones Child Development Center in Petoskey.

“I know for a fact that I have lost families because they can’t afford the center but they make just enough that they don’t get government assistance,” Marvin said.

The federal funding boost could be crucial, as skyrocketing costs pose a significant barrier for parents looking to maintain a job, according to league communications director Alex Rossman.

Low-income residents are caught in a Catch-22, he said. They can risk sending much of the income from their job to a child care facility, or they can limit their income by not working and caring for the children personally.

The average annual cost of center-based infant care in Michigan — $10,281 — is nearly that of a year of mortgage payments or public college tuition, according to Child Care Aware of America, a Virginia-based nonprofit. Home-based infant care runs $7,179 annually, on average.

It’s unfortunate that high child care costs are a barrier, but given how beneficial it is to young children, the price point is necessary, Rossman said.

“It’s an area in which you don’t want to cut costs or corners,” Rossman said. “The offerings just continue to increase — the quality of food available, the field trips, the technology available.”

Rossman also said that there isn’t a huge difference in costs among child care centers and most quality centers will charge similar amounts.

“It’s not like there’s two Cadillacs of day care and then everyone else is a standard sedan — it’s all relatively high, or you drop down significantly” in quality, Rossman said.

A lack of “big-city, high-end” jobs means child care costs aren’t quite as high in rural Michigan, said Stepping Stones’ Marvin.

However, the income difference also means many parents struggle to send their children to child care in the first place, she said.

“Most of my clientele are the average blue-collar workers that possibly get laid off for four months out of the year,” Marvin said. “We are continually full, but we do have children who need to leave” due to their parents’ inconsistent employment.

Rossman, who is soon to be the father of twins, said even with his professional career child care costs would eat up a significant portion of either his or his wife’s salary.

“All our friends that are parents say that once (their children) start school, then you feel rich,” Rossman said. “Even as someone who was reading and writing a lot about the costs of child care, it didn’t really resonate until pricing it out individually.

“My first thought was like, ‘which one of us is quitting our jobs to just stay home?’” he said.

Marvin, who has four children, is no stranger to this decision. She said she chose to quit her preschool teaching job when her first child was born to focus on child-rearing.

A year later, as Marvin was pregnant with her second child, she decided to use her child development degree and open an in-home daycare center.

“I really don’t think I would’ve been able to leave my kids with somebody else,” Marvin said. “This gave me the opportunity to be with them but still work.”

Commitment wanted: State seeking more foster parents

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Rachel Kornilakis, who has been a foster parent for several years and adopted three children out of foster care, says being a foster parent creates a sense of helping others and belonging to a community.

“It is lovely and fulfilling to see children heal, grow, develop and experience firsts,” she said. “Take a kid to the zoo or for ice cream for the first time and your heart will be forever changed. It’s magical.”

Her foster children have stayed with the family for as short as three months and “as long as forever.”

Kornilakis, who lives in Southeast Michigan, says she doesn’t differentiate between her foster children and her own. “Out of the thousands of families I know, I don’t know any who think otherwise.”

According to a national study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly half of foster parents quit in their first year.

And while Michigan experts say that’s not a major problem in the state, they see a need for more adults to sign on.

According to Kornilakis, a foster parent should possess patience, stamina, flexibility, communication and parenting skills, as well as trauma training.

Kornilakis is the founder and co-president of Fostering Forward Michigan, a nonprofit group started in 2014 to help families through the process of becoming licensed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and going through the initial placement processes.

The organization took the name as a reminder that “no matter how difficult or slow progress seems sometimes, we must push to move forward,” she said.

According to the Michigan Health and Human Services Department, the state has about 6,000 licensed foster families, and more than 13,000 children are in foster care.

“We are always recruiting,” said Heidi Raubenolt, the director of child welfare at Judson Center,

a nonprofit human services agency working in Wayne, Washtenaw, Macomb, Oakland and Genesee counties.

A license is required for prospective foster parents. State Health and Human Services marketing specialist Erica Quealy said it takes seven months on average for a family or individual to complete the steps to becoming a foster parent.

The process includes contacting a foster care navigator who will help them get started and answer questions about the process, selecting an agency to work with, attending orientation and training, and participating in a home evaluation, Quealy said.

Quealy said her department is always looking for more foster homes.

“When a child is being placed in foster care, we first make it a priority to find them foster homes with appropriate relatives whenever possible,” Quealy said. “That helps maintain stability for children who have experienced trauma.”

If children can’t be placed with relatives, the department tries to place them close to their home   so they can stay in the same school and be near their friends and family, she said. “Having more licensed foster families throughout Michigan provides a greater opportunity to keep children in their community.”

“There are a lot of different reasons,” said the Judson Center’s Raubenolt. “Sometimes there’s a good reason, such as they have run out of rooms in their home, or they had a child reunify to their own family and they want to take a break after that.”

She said another reason is that foster parents are struggling. “That is when the agency comes and tries to support them, to really help them stay and care for children.”

Kornilakis, of Fostering Forward Michigan, said new foster families are rarely prepared for the challenge of traumatized children who’ve been abused or neglected by their own parents. “They think they are simply going to love kids.”

Increasingly stringent and often confusing rules and regulations could also contribute to the drop-out rate, Kornilakis said.

“The investment of time and resources that families have to provide while undertaking a great deal of risk cannot be overstated,” she said. “Most foster families say you have to be ‘all in,’ and it takes a very special family to do this difficult work.”Some foster parents encounter difficulties that could be due to system failures such as delayed payments and services, or returning children to their birth families, said Kornilakis.

Raubenolt said, “Anyone who’s even thought about becoming a foster parent or might be passing the idea around cant call the statewide phone number at 855-MICHKIDS to speak to a foster care navigator and see if it might be right for them.

“If not, that’s OK too, but at least there is more awareness,” she said.

Libraries continue to evolve in a technological age

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — As online technology has crept into everyday life and education, free public access to computers and internet has become an important attraction of public libraries.

“There’s a divide between families that have technology available and those who don’t,” said Gail Madziar, director of Michigan Association of Libraries. “If you’re a student that needs to do their homework, sometimes a library is the only place that you have to access information in a safe place.”

Many libraries serving rural populations report significant demand for their online services. For instance, internet services at the Presque Isle district libraries were accessed over 14,000 times in 2017. The county has a population of 13,000.

“We have internet access at all five of our locations,” said Amber Clement, director of Presque Isle District Library. “Besides us as a library, McDonald’s is the next best bet for free internet.”

One big use of the service is by high school students who are dual-enrolled with Alpena Community College, which requires internet access.

“A lot of these kids live out in rural areas without internet access and so they rely on either the school or the library to provide that,” Clement said.

On the other side of the state, more of Grand Traverse County has access to broadband internet than in Presque Isle County, but the Traverse Area District LIbraries still see use of its internet.

The district’s six libraries have recorded 3,477 users spending 11,289 hours on library computers this year.

Libraries also provide a basic technology education.

The district sees a large turnout for technology information classes, said Brice Bush, adult services coordinator for Traverse Area District Libraries.

“We’re working on creating a senior summer camp series designed for older patrons,” Bush said. “The programs would be focused on social media literacy and decoding your device. … Anyone is welcome to bring the technology you use to the session and we’ll be there to help.”

Involving the community can be done in other ways as well. In Alpena, the focus of Tinker Tuesdays is less on education and more on experimentation.

Tinker Tuesdays at Alpena Public Library are an opportunity for students and adults to play with new technologies.

“Kids are coming in with their parents, and pretty soon their parents become interested and start participating,” said Nancy Mousseau, technology specialist for Alpena Public Libraries.

“We have a 3-D printer and 3-D printing pens, along with low-tech projects as well like Legos and K’nex.”

In Traverse City, Bush is committed to opening the tech world to patrons.

“Public libraries are staying relevant in the technological world we’re living in by the dedicated free access to computers and internet connection,” Bush said.

 

Law would make it tougher to terminate some parents’ rights

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s now up to Gov. Rick Snyder to approve a set of bills that would make it more difficult for child protective officials to terminate the rights of some parents who previously had a child taken from them.

Legislative action on the flagship bill, sponsored by Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, came after the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down a provision dealing with termination of parental rights. Previously, courts could take away a parent’s rights based solely on a previous TPR (Termination of Parental Rights)without considering the parent’s efforts to improve.

Janet Reynolds Snyder, the executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Federation for Children and Families, said that the priority for judges, state agencies and “any authority that might be involved in solving a parental dispute simply got to be the safety and the well-being of children.”

If a court ends someone’s parental rights, the matter will come up again if there are other children involved.

Under the legislation, parents in such cases would “have the rights to have information reviewed that will show a change of circumstance, that will show that efforts have been made and allow the assessment of the current situation,” Snyder said.

“Parental rights are critically important,” she said.

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bills. Among the four lawmakers  who voted against the change was Democratic Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills.

“The most important thing in deciding policy is to protect people from harm, and I’m concerned that this bill will result in more children being kept in households where they are neglected and not properly cared for,” Greimel said.

Snyder. of the Federation of Children and Families, said courts have an important role to play when deciding whether to terminate parental rights.

“The court takes very seriously the bonds of family, and they’re going to look at situations separately and be able to make an assessment,” Snyder said.

She added that courts should allow experts to be called in to assess a situation if needed but that the priority should be on the safety and best interests of the child, not on any adult involved.

“Anyone, in any situation is always capable of change. Change is part of human nature,” Snyder said.

Greimel, on the other hand, said though he understands both sides of the issue, he still thinks  “that if a parent has had one child taken away due to neglect, the parent is very likely to neglect other children as well.”

He also said,  however, “that there needs to be more support mechanisms for families and for parents who are trying to do the right thing. But at the same time, if a parent had a history of neglect, the most important priority needs to be protecting children from suffering from continued neglect.”

Bill would pay a bonus to some teachers in low-income schools

By BAILEY LASKE
Capital News Service

LANSING – –Michigan’s struggle to retain teachers in low-income areas may soon receive a helping hand.

New bills in the House and Senate would give educators who teach mathematics, science or special education a bonus of $1,800 a year if more than half the students in their school district are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The bill applies to school districts, intermediate school districts and public school academies.

According to Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, low-income areas tend to pay lower salaries for teachers even though these educators do some of the hardest work.

Brinks, a sponsor of the House measure, said she hopes the bonuses would encourage dedicated and caring educators to go to and remain at these schools.

The Department of Education reported that between 2016-17, more than 17,000 teachers who taught at a school for a year didn’t return to the same school the next year.

Comparing the latest data, Michigan has 80.2 percent of teachers staying at the same school for consecutive years. That ranks below the national average of 84.2 percent.

The retention of educators is only part of a bigger problem, said David Crim, a Michigan Education Association communications consultant.

“The larger problem is the teacher shortage, caused primarily by attacks on teacher wages, benefits, pensions and collective bargaining rights over the past eight years,”  Crim said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, enrollment in colleges of education across the state is down by more than 50 percent since 2008, and average teacher salaries across the state have declined for the fifth straight year.

The number of new teachers leaving the profession in the first five years of teaching is at an historic high, according to the Michigan Education Association.

Among the sponsors of the bonus legislation are Reps. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids; Jon Hoadley D-Kalamazoo; and Tom Cochran, D-Mason.

“These bills give a financial incentive that will help staff the schools facing a teacher shortage now, in the subjects that are most difficult to find certified teachers for,” Crim said of the bonus proposal.

Brinks said she hopes by increasing teacher’s income with a bonus, teachers would have an incentive to remain in the field, and that it may make the occupation more attractive to those making career choices.

Kathy Berry, president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics, doesn’t see the bill as helping to accomplish either of those objectives.

“The bill reads as a nice gesture, but at the end of the day, $1,800 is not that much money,”  Berry said.

People with the skills to teach mathematics are capable of going into other industries that are more profitable, and that sum of money wouldn’tt change their minds, Berry said. She said that although all teachers would like more money in their pocket, most would rather see their per pupil allowance increased.

The annual cost if the bill were to pass is unclear, but according to the n Department of Education, 702,777 of 1,532,335 Michigan public school students were eligible for free or reduced lunch during the fall of 2016.

The bills are pending in the House Committee of Appropriations and Senate Committee on Education.