No easy solution for underfunded teacher pensions

By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service

LANSING – The Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System (MPSERS) is setting new records – and not in a good way.

The pension system is underfunded by $26.5 billion – the biggest hole ever, according to the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

MPSERS serves K-12 public school districts, community colleges, intermediate districts and a handful of libraries and public universities. As of last year, it had 227,756 active members and 204,512 retirees.
Continue reading

Schools face growing number of immigrant children

By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service

LANSING— The number of English language learners in Michigan’s elementary and secondary schools has increased 15,784 since 2011, according to the Department of Education (DOE).

And with more immigrants settling in Michigan, more actions need to be done to help immigrant students with their English, according to the department.

Michigan has 99,500 immigrant students this school year, a significant increase from the previous year, according to the DOE. Troy, Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Farmington and Warren Consolidated Schools have a larger number of newly arrived immigrant students than other districts.

Dearborn and Detroit Public Schools have the largest proportion of English learners, DOE statistics show.
Continue reading

Many schools find substitute teachers in short supply

By AMELIA HAVANEC

Capital News Service

LANSING – Many school administrators across the state and the private companies that provide substitute teachers are concerned that they can’t find enough of the right people for the job.

However, it’s unknown whether the shortage is due to a lack of quantity of substitutes, or the quality of them.
Continue reading

More schools move to private bus services

By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service

LANSING — The number of Michigan school districts contracting out at least a part of their transportation services increased 150 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to a think tank survey.

The survey by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland recorded 78 school districts opting for some privatized transportation services during that time, in addition to 53 already contracting out.

There are about 540 districts in the state, according to the Department of Education. And while some districts are contracting out only a portion of the service, such as employment, most are privatizing their whole bus operation, said James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy at the center.
Continue reading

Some retired teachers could teach, collect pensions

By YUEHAN LIU
Capital News Service

LANSING—Public school retirees would retain their full pensions and health benefits while going back to work at schools with a critical shortage of teachers in their discipline or as substitutes for teachers and other instructional positions, under a bill before the Legislature.

The House and Senate have passed similar versions of a proposal to change the current law that reduces pension and health benefits for some retirees who are back teaching, depending on their retirement data and the circumstances of their new position.

The measure awaiting final legislative action lays out requirements to determine if a district has a “critical shortage” and if a retiree qualifies.
Continue reading

Bill would require Internet safety courses in schools

By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service

LANSING — Although some schools teach students about Internet dangers, a recently introduced House bill would require it.

The bill, spearheaded by Rep. Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park, and co-sponsored by Reps. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, among others, would mandate public schools teach an “age-appropriate” Internet safety course in grades 1 through 12 at least once per year.

By the time students graduate, they would be taught to recognize and report cyber bullying, sexual predation and copyright infringements, along with how to protect private information.

Wittenberg said he saw a need for Internet education in Michigan’s curriculum after speaking with superintendents in his district who were distraught about student behavior online and the lack of support materials for teachers.
Continue reading

Poverty challenges Michigan schools

By ZHAO PENG

Capital News Service

LANSING— Numerous studies show that poverty and income are the two best predictors of a student’s success in school. This has been proven in Michigan recently, according to education experts.

The average scores of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) are low, with 12 percent proficient in science at the bottom and 50 percent proficient in English at the top, according to the Education Department. Meanwhile, 16 percent of Michigan children live in school districts with concentrated poverty, one of the largest percentages among the states, according to a Kids Count in Michigan report by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Gretchen Dziadosz, executive director of the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state’s largest teacher and school personnel union, said the increase in poor students and poor school districts hurts students’ academic performance. She attributed that increase to the fact that Michigan hasn’t fully recovered from the recession.
Continue reading

Trade schools offer positive option for students

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Patrick Lamb is the son of a welder and a nurse. When he graduated high school in 1976, there were three definitive lines of work for him to enter: university, military or trade.

He was only familiar with one line.

Lamb is now the principal at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District Career-Tech Center and is working with about 1,100 high school students to make sure they know all of their options.
Continue reading

Community colleges can diversify skill sets

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Community colleges serve as educational stepping-stones to higher learning institutions and trade schools, creating a gateway for students who want to advance their education, enter the workforce or simply enrich their skills.

The trade aspect of a job training program creates an opportunity for students to efficiently become part of the workforce, said Wayne Rodgers, a welding and fabrication professor in the job training program at Grand Rapids Community College.

“Everything that we do out there in a manufacturing industry doesn’t take a four-year degree — it takes a specific skill,” said Rodgers. “To have a person take the additional humanities makes them well-rounded, but it keeps them out of the workforce.”
Continue reading

Northern Michigan to offer state’s first Native American studies major

By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service

LANSING — Northern Michigan University will provide the state’s first university-level Native American studies major in beginning next fall, an action that may draw attention to a long-overlooked academic area that has been thriving in recent years, according to a professor at Central Michigan University.

“The education of Native American studies has been neglected far too long,” said Timothy D. Hall, the associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences at Central. “It is always a good thing when new programs are developed to offer students the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of Native American history and culture.”
Continue reading