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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”
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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.”
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State joins online education consortium

By YUEHAN LIU
Capital News Service

LANSING—Michigan has joined a consortium of other states designed to improve online education and increase access while saving money for colleges and universities.

According to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, before gaining acceptance into the reciprocity agreement, Michigan was one of several states that did not regulate distance education providers. Those not located in Michigan were not required to register or meet guidelines to offer online education courses to Michigan residents.

The state had received more than 1,500 inquiries from out-of-state institutions requesting approval or exemption to offer distance education to its residents.
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Average teacher pay continues to shrink, study shows

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN

Capital News Service

LANSING — The average salary of public school teachers in the state dropped by $360 in 2013-14 from the previous school year, which already was $84 less than in 2011-12, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Several factors, including declining school enrollment, account for the downward trend in average salaries, according to education experts.

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School districts having the most financial trouble are also those with the greatest decline in enrollment, said Jennifer Smith, the Michigan Association of School Boards director of government relations.
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Schools confront lower credit ratings

By ZHAO PENG

Capital News Service

LANSING — Forty-three school districts across Michigan are facing the problem of a downgraded credit rating by Moody’s Investor Service this year.

A district’s credit rating directly relates to the cost of borrowing money for bonds to pay for school construction, renovation, and technology. Lower ratings mean higher interest costs.

However, the downgrading may not have substantial impact on either construction or bond issuing, according to Sandra Weir, the finance director of the Chippewa Hill School District.
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