By David Eggert, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) – The Michigan Legislature adjourned for the year Thursday without authorizing the expansion of a state turnaround district for failing public schools, again thwarting Gov. Rick Snyder’s push for the legislation.
The Republican-led House declined to vote after the bill eked through the GOP-controlled Senate a day before. Legislation to expand the Education Achievement Authority beyond 15 Detroit schools to others around the state also stalled a year ago despite being a priority for the Republican governor.
“It’s certainly a victory for the students of our state,” House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, an Auburn Hills Democrat, said after the lengthy session in which lawmakers sent of slew of lower-profile bills to Snyder’s desk. “We know that (the EAA) has failed financially and it has failed educationally.”
The House is expected to revisit the EAA bill in January or later along with other legislation not finalized like measures that would ease phone companies’ ability to discontinue traditional land line service and make changes to billboard regulations.
The bill, which was stuck in the Senate for much of the year before seeing significant changes from a version that cleared the House in March, does not directly name the fledgling EAA. Yet because the state in 2011 signed a deal transferring the reform/redesign district created under a 2009 law signed by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm to the EAA, it essentially would allow for the authority’s expansion.
The Senate removed a proposed cap on how many schools in the lowest-performing 5 percent can be transferred to the reform/redesign district. But the legislation now would prohibit any new schools from joining 15 Detroit schools in the EAA until the 2015-16 school year.
“The members haven’t had much of a chance to look at it. That’s OK,” said House Education Chairwoman Lisa Lyons Posthumus, an Alto Republican and sponsor of the legislation. “The beautiful part about this December is it’s not lame duck. It’s the end of a quarter, not the end of the game.”
The EAA, now in its second academic year of operation, was formed in 2011 through an agreement between Detroit schools’ emergency manager and Eastern Michigan University. It is funded with per-pupil state aid and also has taken in millions in private foundation donations and from an unrelated state settlement.
EAA backers and opponents in the traditional education lobby vigorously disagree over how it is doing.
The EAA says students are faring better and learning as a faster clip than before, while critics question the integrity of the test results due to technological glitches. On one side are those who support doing something different and more innovative for students trapped in failing schools and on the other are those who contend the model is unproven, losing enrollment and should not be expanded beyond Detroit.
Lyons said she is not concerned the bill contains no cap on new additions to the EAA.
“Don’t be in the bottom 5 percent of schools if you don’t want to be in the EAA,” she said.
State superintendent Mike Flanagan said earlier this week that he will direct more of Michigan’s worst schools into the reform district as early as January but prefers that a law be passed to solidify operating entities, including options besides the EAA. Democrats say Snyder is pushing hard for the bill in part so potential legal challenges go away if more schools are added.
“Shame on anyone who insists on maintaining the status quo, to keep kids in this handful of failing schools where I wouldn’t dare send my grandkids,” Flanagan said.
Under state law, schools in the bottom 5 percent on standardized tests are placed under the supervision of the state reform/redesign officer. Those with inadequate turnaround plans or whose plans are not working can be added to the state district.
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