- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

Detroit News. May 16, 2017

Inadequacy marks school funding reports

One year after the results of a statewide school adequacy study were released, a new coalition is saying that study was, well, inadequate. The group is spearheading yet another study into Michigan’s school finances.

And while members raise some valid points, it’s unclear how another report will shed more light on school funding.

The School Finance Research Collaborative, 20 members from education and business backgrounds, isn’t satisfied with how schools are financed and believes it’s time for the state to reconsider how best to support its schools and prepare students for the futures.

Fair enough.

The group points to the challenges facing a growing number of districts, which are educating higher numbers of students with special needs and youth who aren’t fluent in English. Those students are undoubtedly more expensive to educate.

In addition, districts in low-income areas struggle with raising funds for capital improvements - a challenge that most wealthier areas don’t have.

The collaborative wants a report that does a deep dive into these issues and lays out a blueprint for how best to meet these needs.

The governor’s 21st Century Education Commission released a detailed report on how to improve schools earlier this year and also found these funding disparities deserved attention. The school finance group wants to build off these recommendations.

Unlike the first adequacy study, which cost taxpayers $400,000, this one is privately funded, so that’s a plus.

Much of the initial funding is from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The rest of the money will come from community and education foundations, says Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent of Oakland Schools and a member of the coalition. This study is expected to cost at least $750,000.

“What we realized is that we didn’t have a comprehensive data set, and we think that’s going to be needed,” Cook-Robinson says.

The first adequacy study was a bad idea from the beginning, as it was born out a desperate attempt by Republicans to get Democratic support for a road funding ballot proposal in late 2014.

It didn’t do much good. That report, as was expected, called more for per-pupil funding but didn’t offer much additional value.

The collaborative blames that on the lack of detail in the original proposal request, which only called for one methodology to be employed: “the successful school district model.”

Apparently, at least two methodologies are required for a useful study.

What’s most disappointing is the coalition has decided to go with the same firm that did last year’s report. Colorado-based Augenblick, Palaich and Associates is the go-to company for these studies and that’s because it concludes that lack of funding is to blame for most states’ school problems and this opens states up to lawsuits. California-based Picus, Odden and Associates is going to help with the research.

Business members of the group have made it clear they aren’t interested in that kind of study, says Randy Liepa, superintendent of Wayne RESA. While the collaborative claims to seek a report that will look beyond funding, it’s uncertain that’s what they will get.

When looking at per-capita income, Michigan already ranks in the top 10 for K-12 per-pupil spending. Not all schools allocate their money as well as others. A helpful report would figure out what successful schools are doing right - and what others aren’t.

As other states have shown, however, expect this adequacy study to be a more expensive, longer version of what came out last year.

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Lansing State Journal. May 18, 2017

East Lansing development delays get old fast

The East Lansing Planning Commission’s 4-4 split on the latest proposal to bring development to downtown is another entry on a growing list of reasons why developers are hesitant to go to downtown East Lansing.

Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors of Chicago is the newest name on a long list of developers that have attempted high-profile work with the City of East Lansing and met resistance from the city council, planning commission or both.

This storyline is getting old.

City Center II; Park District; East Village. Negative perceptions concerning projects that have dragged on, been delayed or were outright cancelled outweigh success stories in East Lansing.

Attempts to redevelop the mess of abandoned buildings at West Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road have spanned the past 15 years.

Even with recent approval of the $154 million Park District project at the site, developers were forced to resubmit plans three times while the gateway to East Lansing and MSU remained blighted.

Last year the city promised all of the blighted properties would be torn down by Dec. 31, after passing an ordinance to remove ‘dangerous’ buildings that was supposed to help speed up the process.

And yet nothing significant has changed.

In the most recent case of the $132 million Center City project on the table, the East Lansing Planning Commission is deadlocked and failed to recommend its approval to city council members last month.

The concern on this project seems to be its scale. Commissioners said the buildings are too tall for the skyline and will cost the city too much to incentivize. With other projects, it’s been tax relief, zoning and owner-occupied requirements.

Each of these concerns are reasonable. Elected and appointed officials are charged with looking out for the best interests of the community.

It’s the disparities and inconsistency that have plagued potential development deals and subsequently tagged East Lansing with a reputation as a municipality that can be difficult to work with.

That doesn’t bode well for the city or Greater Lansing. East Lansing is and will continue to be a huge player in the region, in terms of growth, development, education and quality of life.

So get on the same page, East Lansing leaders.

Have a strategic development meeting, learn from the past and make a strategic plan to move forward with a concerted effort that will not only allow development, but encourage it.

Delays and doing nothing comes at a cost that East Lansing residents shouldn’t have to pay.

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The Times Herald. May 19, 2017

Lawmakers slap a band-aid on truancy

We cannot proceed without first pointing out the irony of a body that schedules itself to work 102 days a year trying to solve the school truancy problem. We wonder if two- and three-day workweeks wouldn’t improve the attendance of teachers and schoolchildren alike.

The Michigan Senate on Thursday approved a pair of bills aimed at making sure students stay in school and get the educations they need and deserve. The first bill is so palm-to-forehead we are almost surprised that it is necessary. It would prohibit school districts from suspending or expelling students for missing school.

Suspending a child who does not want to go to school sounds more like an incentive to drop out than a disciplinary tool. Any district that suspends or expels a student for truancy clearly is not qualified to teach anybody anything.

Other parts of the package would require districts to include data about truancy, attendance and related discipline in annual reports to the state. And it would require school officials to meet with parents of students with irregular attendance.

That’s logical, too, because it might be some parents who need the discipline.

Numbers already reported to state education officials are worrying. Too many students in Port Huron Schools qualify as chronically truant, according to the Michigan Department of Education’s definition - missing 10 or more days per year. Port Huron’s attendance isn’t the best or worst in the area.

A deeper look at the statistics suggests eliminating those absences might be more complicated than what the Senate approved. The highest absence rates are for kindergartners, 42 percent of whom were chronically truant in the 2015-16 school year. But only 14 percent of ninth-graders were in the same category.

Clearly, when a third of elementary students aren’t showing up for school, it is not their fault. But it may not be their parents’ fault entirely, either. Economically disadvantaged students are twice as likely to miss class. Disabled students miss school more often. There are large racial differences.

Half of homeless students are chronically truant. Can scheduling a meeting with their parents fix that? How about parents who are migrant workers?

It is a problem that may need more than 102 days of work to fix.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. May 19, 2017

Challenges greater than homework for students

More than 400 students who attend Traverse City Area Public Schools don’t have a consistent place to call home. The number is both shocking and unacceptable.

The figure is only about 4 percent of TCAPS’ total enrollment, which hovers near 10,000. But that total includes grade school students and even preschool children, youngsters who have a parent or caregiver overseeing their life away from the classroom, even if that life is precarious.

High school students, on the other hand, who don’t have a permanent home are more likely to be independent, with little or no family on which to rely. They are unsteady human flames in a windy world. For them, not having a consistent place to sleep, eat and study can make it nearly impossible to survive, much less thrive, in school.

TCAPS identified more than 400 of its students this year as “in transition.” That’s the phrase TCAPS uses to avoid labeling students as homeless. Some of those 400-plus kids actually are homeless. Others don’t have a regular place to live, so end up shuttling from one temporary shelter to another.

Local efforts to help these independent students are laudable. Individuals and programs are assisting many of these students with food, bus passes, bridge cards and health insurance. But more must be done. A big piece of the solution is housing, a safe place where these students can establish a consistent routine.

Finding home bases for 400 students is a daunting task for our community.

Even adults with established careers have trouble finding an affordable apartment in Traverse City. A teen, alone, doesn’t have a chance in this housing market.

Teens cut off from family must work - often in two or three low-wage, part-time jobs - while attending classes. And they must do it while worrying about where they’re going to sleep each night - on a friend’s couch, in a car, on a park bench.

That situation is unimaginable for most of us at any age. It is tragic for a teen.

It leaves children abandoned both physically and emotionally at a time in their lives when a nurturing community is crucial in their journey toward becoming productive members of society. It leaves them vulnerable to forces that offer the comfort of a roof and easy money in exchange for illegal or immoral action. It leaves these children in a situation from which escape is difficult, a happy future unlikely.

High school was an awkward stage for many of us. There’s the continuing quest for good grades that requires dedication and hours of homework. Trying to fit in socially is a nearly a full-time job for many teens. Roll in puberty, family discord and social pressure and you get a recipe for emotional distress. But most of us - with the support of our family and friends and a reliable place to lay our heads at night - make it through the angst and go on to successful adult lives.

In-transition students, though, wander from couch to couch, job to job, friend to friend, never having confidence in the future. They lack a stable family springboard from which to launch.

Our community must do more to nurture these at-risk children. Social agencies, community groups and local governments must work together to give those students a chance to thrive.

The Issue

Hundreds of students struggle to find stable housing

Our View

Local efforts help, but more is necessary.

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