Bills would penalize teacher sick-outs

By JASON KRAFT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Teachers who strike illegally –or participate in sick outs– could lose their teaching certificate or be fined a day’s pay for each day that they didn’t teach, under recently proposed legislation. The bills, sponsored by Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, and Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg, would change the definition of a strike to include a situation when multiple teachers call in sick. The bills were approved by the Committee on Education and await action by the full Senate. “By and large, there’s a concern whether strikes are legal or illegal in Michigan,” said Brad Biladeau, associate executive for government relations at the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

Students who don't speak English fare poorly on M-Step

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The Michigan Student Test of Education Progress (M-Step) introduced last spring was difficult for most students, according to their test scores, especially for one group: English-learners. The M-Step’s first results were low, with 3rd grade English language arts showing the highest proportion of student proficiency at only 50 percent. It only got worse for English-learners, said Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA). “The M-Step last year was given to students that didn’t know English,” Cook said. “Guess how they did on the M-Step?

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. The fund’s liabilities have been increasing for decades, said Jarrett Skorup, a policy analyst with the Mackinac Center.

Phys ed cuts hit schools

By AMELIA HAVANEC
Capital News Service
LANSING – When it comes to K-12 education, the subjects that get measured by the government are the ones that get priority during the school day – leaving physical education classes in the dust, according to Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA). “It’s just reality.” Cook said. “Positions get cut. You lose your art, music and physical education because those are not on the statewide tests. How do you test for physical education, for crying out loud?

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. “We occasionally hear anecdotal evidence from districts about their inability to find substitute teachers,” said Bill DiSessa, a communications specialist for the Department of Education. “On the other hand, we also hear, anecdotally, from other districts or from the substitutes themselves that they can’t find substitute jobs.”
But there’s no direct evidence of a statewide shortage, DiSessa added. On the issue of quality, according to Joseph Lubig, the associate dean for teacher education and director of education at Northern Michigan University, a candidate needs only 90 college credit hours to be eligible for a position.

Proposal to stop paid leave for school union reps draws fire

By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service
LANSING – A Republican-backed bill targeting public union officers could end up leaving schools suffering, say some education experts. The Michigan Education Association (MEA) and Michigan Association of School Boards both oppose a bill they say would hit collective bargaining and is a state overreach into decision-making by local school districts. The bill would prohibit school personnel and all other public employees except police officers, firefighters and prison guards from having union officers with full-time union duties on their payroll. That’s something normally decided between employers, unions and employees. Employers like school districts would also be unable to pay part-time union representatives for time spent on union duties like meeting with school boards and coworkers.

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. Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Steven Cook said the bill relates to the teacher shortage at public schools. The MEA is Michigan’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel.

Vocational, technical programs draw more student interest

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The education pendulum that directed so many students toward college degrees is swinging the other way, education experts say, now pointing students more toward skilled trade training as well as college. The push for young students to attend college, which negatively affected those who weren’t interested in it, went too far during former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration, said Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA). The MEA is the state’s largest union of teachers and other school employees. Vocational and technical programs eliminated due to lack of funding and interest by local administrators and school boards were important for students, Cook said. “The need is still there — it’s probably bigger now than it was before,” Cook said.