State program boosts school nutrition with local foods

By JINGJING NIE
Capital News Service

LANSING — More Michigan students can enjoy fruits and vegetables from local farms because of the expansion of a state program that supports buying them.

The 10 Cents A Meal program is administered by the Department of Education.The state offers up to 10 cents per meal for schools to purchase Michigan grown or processed food.

Sixteen school districts joined the program its first year in 2016, serving more than 3.8 millions meals to 48,000 students, according to the program’s legislative report.

The state recently announced that 32 school districts will receive the funding this year. More than 90,000 students will benefit from it.

Almost 80 schools applied for the program this year, according to the Department of Education. Criteria for choosing them includes whether they are near farms, distributors and food hubs.

The grants are for foods such as local fruit, vegetables or dry beans, said Diane Golzynski, the interim state child nutrition director at the department.

“We’re just very excited about this program,” Golzynski said. “It’s really exciting and we’ve seen Michigan farms be able to get additional funding to help them grow and provide more products to local schools.”

This is the fifth year that Traverse City schools have participated in the program because it started there as a pilot program.

The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District partnered with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities to launch the initial version, said Tom Freitas, food service director for the district.

The local program prompted Sens. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, and Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s K-12, School Aid, Education Subcommittee, to initiate a statewide program two years ago.

“We are pleased that this is something that is being seen as a win-win by legislators for investing in the health of our kids and the health of Michigan’s economy, and we’re pleased that it is getting bipartisan support,” said Diane Conners, senior policy specialist at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, a nonprofit organization based in Traverse City.

“The 10 Cents a Meal program is helping expose children to locally-grown produce options in the school setting and is creating partnerships between school districts and their local agricultural producers,” Hansen said in a news release.

And students apparently notice.

“Kids can tell differences. When the food service ran out of Michigan apples, they can tell the difference and say ‘what’s going on with the apple?’” Conners said.

Freitas agrees: “If you get a Honeycrisp apple versus a Red Delicious apple, they just like Honeycrisp much better, which is more of a local apple.”

Traverse City Area Public Schools receives produce almost everyday, Freitas said.

Even in the winter, when there is nothing growing in Michigan, schools still have supplies of frozen cherries, blueberries, strawberries and apples from local processors.

James Bardenhagen is the owner of Bardenhagen Farms. His farm and his co-ops sell apples, potatoes, grapes, apricots, nectarines, plums, leafy greens, carrots, kohlrabi to schools in Leelanau County and Traverse City.

Kids now want to eat at school rather than bring their own lunch, said Bardenhagen.

10 Cents A Meal means a new market for him.

“It’s a great program, and it benefits the farmers and school and the kids,” he said.

“Our hope is to get it across all of Michigan,” Freitas said. “Every time it grows a little bit, that is a good thing not just to schools but the Michigan economy and the farmers.”

Districts now in the program include Alanson Public Schools, Bear Lake Schools, Benzie County Central Schools, Boyne Falls Public School District, East Jordan Public Schools, Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools, Glen Lake Community Schools, Harbor Springs Public School District, Kaleva Norman Dickson Schools, Manton Consolidated Schools, Onekama Consolidated Schools, Pellston Public Schools, Public Schools of Petoskey, Traverse City Area Public Schools, Belding Area Schools, Coopersville Area Public School District, Grand Haven Area Public Schools, Hart Public School District, Holland Public Schools, Lowell Area Schools, Montague Area Public Schools, Saugatuck Public Schools, Shelby Public Schools, Thornapple Kellogg School District, Whitehall District Schools, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Bedford Public Schools, Dexter Community School District, Hillsdale Community Schools, Jackson Public Schools, Monroe Public Schools, Ypsilanti Community Schools.

CNS community:

Harbor Springs Public School District, Public Schools of Petoskey, Traverse City Area Public Schools, Holland Public Schools, Glen Lake Community Schools, Kaleva Norman Dickson School District

 

Most Michigan kids lag national average in well-being; African-American students at the bottom

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — African-American children in Michigan score the lowest in the nation in a complex measure of their well-being, a new report shows.

“The data really shows that African-American kids here in Michigan are faring much more poorly compared to African-American kids in every other state in the country,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The Race for Results report, produced by the Kids Count project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, measures the well-being children of all races. It takes into account 12 indicators, including education, work experience, family support and neighborhood conditions. It looks at how children progress in education, health, economic security and other spheres.

The scores are based on a scale of one to 1,000.

African-American children in Michigan scored 260, far below the national score for African-American children, which is 369.

“Kids of color fare worse on most indicators compared to their white peers,” Guevara Warren said. “We have a lot of work to do around racial disparity.”

Latino children in Michigan fared better than their national counterparts. They had an index score of 446, which is above 429, the national score. Native American children in Michigan scored 511; the national score for that group is 413.

That said, both the state and national index scores for these minorities come up far short of the national index score for white children. The national score for African-American children is 369. For white children, it is 713.

White children in Michigan, while better off than their minority counterparts in the state, scored 667, below the 713 national average for white children.

Asian/Pacific Islander children in the state scored 804, which was better than the national score of 783.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Education declined to be interviewed about the report. Instead, department communications oficer William DiSessa, emailed this  statement:

“We need to work harder at getting every child to be successful in school, including children of color who have to overcome risk factors like poverty, undernutrition and lack of educational resources. Michigan has begun investing more heavily in early childhood education and programs to help at-risk students in our schools, and providing free nutrient-rich school meals for kids. When Michigan becomes a Top 10 education state in 10 years, it will be the result of these additional resources and greater focus on meeting the needs of our at-risk students.”

Guevara Warren said the League for Public Policy said it’s concerned that the Michigan fourth-grade reading level is low in all racial and ethnic groups. “The biggest and most troubling statistic is the rate of reading for African-American fourth graders in Michigan, which is the lowest rate of reading proficiency for African-Americans in the country.”

The Michigan Education Association says there is hope for the future, especially with the recent passage of a new law that requires school districts to assess the reading skills of students in kindergarten through third grade three times a year and requires districts to develop individual reading plans for deficient students.

“The new third=grade reading law will help make sure students are proficient in reading by the time they reach fourth grade,” said David Crim, a communications consultant at the MEA, the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel. “It will take some time, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Guevara Warren said the report looks at 12 indicators because children are impacted by where they live, how much they eat, their families, their education, health care and a variety of other influences.  

“If you’re hungry, you’re not going to read well,” she said. “If you’re stressed out because you live in an area of concentrated poverty with high crime rates, you’re going to have a harder time in school. There are all these things that are interconnected that are important to addressing the whole child.”

Crim said social conditions are huge determinants of success.

“Where a child starts doesn’t have to determine where they end up,” he said. “We need to address social issues that impede student success.”

Michigan school enrollments projected to drop

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — A forecast for Michigan’s public school enrollment is bleak.

The National Center for Education Statistics recently predicted that public school enrollment in Michigan will decline more than 5 percent by 2025. It is one of only nine states facing that fate.

“Most districts have seen a decrease in enrollment over the past several years, granted some more than others, but this is widespread throughout our state,” said Chris Wigent, the executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

As of 2017, a little more than 1.3 million students are enrolled in  public schools. A 5 percent drop represents a loss of 65,000 pupils.

A school district receives a little more than $7,500 from the state per enrolled student. To put those numbers in perspective, if a district has 1,500 students and loses 30 children a year, that’s more than a $225,000 loss. But when losses pile up, it doesn’t mean other expenses can be cut, said Wigent.

When students leave, it doesn’t happen in only one grade, but across the entire kindergarten through 12th grade system, Wigent said. That means the number of teachers can’t necessarily be reduced. And expenses like transportation remain the same, he added.

“Quality education is one big part of the equation to continue to have our state move forward in a positive economic direction,” Wigent said. “There are many parts of that equation. They all have an impact on each other. It’s like a Rubik’s cube.”

And enrollment is a significant piece of that puzzle.

Enrollment doesn’t just fall for no reason. Michigan’s state demographer, Eric Guthrie, says it can be because of a fall in birth rate, an increase in deaths and migration out of the state.

Michigan hasn’t had an increase in its mortality rate, so that leaves the other two options.

”When we look at the structure of the population, we see fewer people of early childbearing years, so we’re going to see a decline of young persons,” Guthrie said. “If you look at the population structure of Michigan, you can see right after those college years, we have a reduction in populations in that 25-40 year age group.”

U.S. census figures show Michigan saw .7 percent of people ages 22-34 migrating from the state between 2014 and 2015.

But that’s only part of the puzzle. For those who stay in the state, Guthrie said many delay having children to complete their own educations.

“These things mixed together are driving down our school aid populations and will continue to do so for the near future,” Guthrie said.

The author of the study that cites those projections says the prediction model is usually fairly accurate. Those projections come from an analysis of the number of students enrolled in one grade, compared with the number of those enrolled in the grade below.

Michigan public school enrollment has been declining for some time. The National Center for Education Statistics reports its K-12 enrollment is at its lowest in five decades — from 2.1 million in 1971 to 1.4 million in 2016.

A reduction in enrollment also leads to a reduction in educators, Wigent said.

“The biggest impact that we’ve seen is a reduction of salaries for teachers, for support staff and administrators,” Wigent said. “And the outcome of that is we have this shortage of educators in our state.”

Allegan Public Schools has had a decline in enrollment for the last 10 years, and like much of the state has suffered a decline in teachers.

“Obviously, the biggest impact is going to be on our staffing levels,” said Allegan Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Harness. “If you budget-crunch for that long, you start to lose a lot of important people.”

Wigent says the state needs to pay attention to studies that show where the money for education is going. Those numbers will play an important role in how the state tackles future education reform.

“I think we’re going to need to look at those carefully and we’re going to have to prioritize and pay attention to how schools need to be funded,” Wigent said. “And really take a look at school reform in Michigan. It seems all the arrows point to that right now.”

Michigan passed major tax and school finance changes 20 years ago. As everyone knows, things have changed over the past 20 years, Wigent said, and it’s time to look at it again.

Proposed bills could undo parental education requirement for immunization waivers

By Kaley Fech
Capital News Service

LANSING — Parents who don’t want to vaccinate their kids could skip an education session designed to teach them a the benefits of vaccines and the risks of disease, under legislation proposed by two Republican lawmakers.

A 2014 rule requires parents to first learn about vaccines from a county health department to get an immunization waiver, , according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The rule was put in place by a joint committee of the House and Senate, not the entire Legislature.

Michigan allows immunization waivers for medical, religious and philosophical reasons. Medical waivers are completed by a physician.The education requirement pertains only to parents claiming religious and philosophical reasons.

Michigan had the sixth-highest waiver rate for kindergarteners in the country in 2014-15, according to the state health agency. The state moved to 11th place after the educational requirement was put in place.

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen a 33 percent decrease in waivers,” said Bob Swanson, director of the Health and Human Services division of immunizations.

Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, and Rep. Jeff Noble, R-Plymouth, introduced bills earleir this year to undo the education requirements.

One of the problems with the administrative rule is it contradicts state law, Barrett testified at at House Education Reform Committee.

“Michigan law grants parents the right to waive any and all vaccines for their children for medical, philosophical or religious reasons,” he said. “That law remains on the books today.”

The Department of Health and Human Services opposes the bills.

“From a public health standpoint, vaccines are very important,” Swanson said.

Supporters of the repeal say the issue is about parental rights

“We support the right for parents to choose if their kids are vaccinated,” said Beth Bechtel, a volunteer with Michigan for Vaccine Choice. “As a group, we are not for or against vaccines. We simply believe parents should be able to choose.”

Noble testified that parents and not government should be encouraged to make wise decisions.

State health authorities note that the education requirement does not take away a parent’s rights.

“The education informs parents of the benefits of being vaccinated and the risks of diseases, but afterward they still have the right to choose to sign a waiver,” Swanson said.

Another criticism by opponents is that the requirement was approved by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rule instead of the entire Legislature.

“If the Department of Health and Human Services wanted to change the rules, they should have written up bills,” Bechtel said.

Five vaccines are required for kindergarten school entry, according to the state health agency. That includes vaccines for chickenpox; polio; measles, mumps and rubella; diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; and hepatitis B.

Some parents are opposed to only certain vaccines due to religious or philosophical beliefs, Bechtel said. The most common one is for chickenpox.

Only about 3 percent of children in the United States are completely unvaccinated, according to officials.

Swanson said ending the education requirement would make waiver rates go back up and increase the risk of disease.

“The more people who are susceptible, the higher the risk for outbreak,” he said.

As of June 30, Houghton County had the highest waiver rate at 13.5 percent. Luce County had the lowest at 0.6 percent, according to Health and Human Services.

When 90 to 95 percent of a community is protected, it is almost impossible for vaccine- preventable diseases to spread, according to health officials administering the state’s “I vaccinate” campaign. As that number decreases, the risk of outbreak increases.  

“A number of preventable disease outbreaks have occurred in Michigan as well as other spots in the U.S. due to low vaccination rates,” said Angela Minicuci, the communications director for the department.

A current example is a hepatitis A outbreak among adults in Southeast Michigan, Swanson said.

“We haven’t seen it in a lot of kids because they’ve been vaccinated,” he said. “But most adults were never vaccinated against the virus, making them susceptible.”

State health authorities say as many people as possible should be vaccinated to protect those who cannot be vaccinated, such as pregnant women, babies, the elderly and ones who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

“Vaccines are the best protection against diseases,” Swanson said.

The bills are in the House Committee on Education Reform.

Reading, writing, arithmetic and saving lives, Michigan schools to teach CPR

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING – This year, in addition to math, science and history, students will also be learning how to save lives.

It is the first year that Michigan schools must teach students to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use automated external defibrillators. The law now mandates that between seventh and 12th grade, students must learn how to perform CPR to graduate from high school.

“This legislation brought Michigan in line with more than half of the country by ensuring all Michigan students learn the life-saving skill of CPR before graduation,” said Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, the primary sponsor of the bill.

Thirty-seven states now require CPR training as a graduation requirement, according to the American Heart Association.

Barb and Bill Rafaill, Albion residents, say they believe so much in the law that they donated CPR kits to schools in both Calhoun and Oceana counties to support it.

“I know lives can be saved,” Barb Rafaill said. “It’s just a matter of education.”

The survival rate after cardiac arrests that occur outside of a hospital is just 11 percent, often because bystanders do not know how to help, according to the American Heart Association. The agency’s hope is that the law will increase the number of people who can perform CPR and intervene in emergencies.  

“Approximately 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in residences, so this requirement will help put people with knowledge of CPR in the places where it’s most likely to happen,” said Cindy Bouma, the association’s communications director for western Michigan.

“If you increase the amount of people who are trained and capable of performing CPR, you increase the likelihood that a bystander will be able to intervene until emergency responders arrive,” Schuitmaker said.

Under the law, students will receive hands-only training, meaning they will learn chest compressions. They won’t be required to perform mouth-to-mouth, according to the association. Hands-only CPR can be taught in as little as 30 minutes, depending on class size, Bouma said.

Students will also learn how to use an automated external defibrillator. That is a device that delivers an electric shock to the heart through the chest and can potentially allow a normal heart rhythm to restart after a cardiac arrest, according to the association.

Schools may use teachers or certified CPR instructors to teach the classes. Teachers do not have to be certified to teach CPR, but if schools want students to get a certification they must be taught by certified instructors. Teachers would need training, but schools can take advantage of volunteers such as paramedics and firefighters who have already been properly trained.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Shawn Walbecq, the kindergarten through 12th grade principal for Suttons Bay Area Public Schools. “The more people that know the techniques,  the better.”

Walbecq said he plans to use local services for teaching CPR in his schools.

“We’re a small community,” he said. “Local paramedics have kids who go to school here, and we have their support.”

The Michigan Education Association says the law is a good idea, but that schools should receive government funding to change curriculum and implement the training, said David Crim, a communications consultant for the union.  

The American Heart Association sells and lends kits to help teach the technique or they can get them from local paramedics or firefighters, Bouma said.

Barb Rafaill said she and her husband wanted to do something to bring more attention to the new law, and they encourage others to help the schools in their communities.

“It’s a wonderful idea that young people are being educated in CPR,” Barb Rafaill said. “We wanted to make a difference so schools didn’t have to buy them.”

The American Heart Association expects the training to greatly increase the number of people able to perform CPR.

“We estimate the program will add 100,000 newly trained people every year,” Bouma said. “In five or 10 years, think of how many people there will be who can perform CPR.”

Public child support calculator can reduce conflict

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has launched a free child support calculator to help parents determine what their unique child care responsibilities are.

The public online tool, which existed earlier through several private websites, lets parents enter a number of variables into the state formula for child support and returns a payment estimate. The result is the same as would be determined by Department of Health and Human Services staff although missing or misentered figures could lead to variations.

State officials said they hoped the calculator would help reduce the conflict between parents that can come from child support settlements, helping both parents understand how support payments are determined and improving the chance for dependable and prompt payments. Continue reading

Some Michigan fish safe for pregnant women, sometimes

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan health professionals still want pregnant women to eat fish in safe amounts, despite local fish advisories throughout the state.

Fish provide nutrients, like omega-3 oils, that are important to fetal brain development, Jennifer Eisner, public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, said. But some of the state’s water bodies are contaminated with toxins like mercury that could harm a growing fetus, she said.

“We do want pregnant women to eat locally caught fish,” Eisner said. “But we want them to check our guidelines to find out how often it’s safe to eat them.”

The department develops Eat Safe Fish guidelines that  provide information on the health effects of chemicals in fish by geographic area. The guidelines apply to all Michiganders, but offer specific recommendations for pregnant women, children and those with chronic illnesses. Continue reading

Care centers may see more regulations for reporting injuries

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Day care centers, adult care centers and foster homes would have to meet higher standards for reporting injuries on an online database, under bills introduced in the state House.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who sponsored the bills, said the increased record-keeping will make it easier for people to evaluate centers when choosing one.

Although those institutions already face state reporting requirements, Lucido said his bills would ensure that patterns of more minor incidents would not be overlooked.

Lucido said, “I don’t think a registry or database is so wrong when dealing with loved ones, people we’re trying to protect.” Continue reading

Internet says: Michigan ranks high in bullying

By CAITLIN DeLUCA

LANSING — Michigan schools may not be so welcoming for students, according to two recent studies.

Both Wallethub.com and Backgroundchecks.org did studies based on information from the National Center for Education Statistics, Centers for Disease Control, National Education Association and other organizations.

Both websites say they have community outreach programs with writers, open data analysts and statisticians who produce studies on statewide levels.

And both ranked Michigan as one of the worst states for bullying in America.

“The purpose of the study was to understand bullying on a state-to-state basis,” said Jason Quimby, the director for outreach at Background Checks which Quimby called an organization devoted to public safety, open government and transparency. Continue reading

Homegrown and served without a moan

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

 

LANSING– A program designed to increase schools’ use of local produce is cooking up resources for K-12 school food and nutrition directors so they can better incorporate healthy Michigan foods into cafeteria meals.

The effort by a group called Cultivate Michigan is part of the trend pushing local produce into meal plans in large institutions, including schools and hospitals.

“People are more educated than ever about the benefits of healthy eating,” said Barbie Ward-Thomas, the food service director at Gwinn Area Community Schools that participated in the project.

The program provided school menu recipes incorporating Michigan products, Kaitlin Koch Wojciak, Community Food Systems educator in southeastern Michigan,

said. The program targets cooks and kitchen supervisors who deal directly with the food. Continue reading