- Associated Press - Monday, March 20, 2017

Detroit News. March 15, 2017

State should keep ‘common’ standards

The fight in Michigan over who should call the shots on education is on display in the Legislature. One prominent issue that continues to capture the attention of lawmakers is the state’s adoption of the Common Core nearly seven years ago. At its heart, this is a battle over local control of schools.

Many Republicans in Lansing have long bristled over the content standards that the State Board of Education agreed to adopt in 2010. The Common Core was developed by a consortium of states and offers grade level content expectations in English Language Arts and math. All but four states initially signed on, but a growing number are bowing out, and many more are considering it. At least nine states have left.

We don’t blame states for changing course. While many education reform groups, business leaders and prominent politicians have strongly supported the Common Core, what started as a states-led effort got usurped by the federal government. The Obama administration ultimately tied relief from the education benchmarks under the now-replaced No Child Left Behind law to states adopting the content standards. And the feds helped fund the standardized tests aligned with Common Core.

Some of the GOP pushback is related to the content itself, yet much of the distaste comes from the perceived stranglehold of the former administration over state education decisions.

That’s a valid concern. And many Michigan Republicans took office tasked by their constituents to do away with the Common Core. This happened on the State Board, too, which Democrats firmly controlled for years. Former state Rep. Tom McMillin and Nikki Snyder, a nurse, both ran on platforms opposing the core and they won, unseating board president John Austin. They are now encouraging the Legislature to reverse course.

Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, has introduced a bill this session that would repeal the standards and instead implement the ones Massachusetts had prior to that state’s adoption of the Common Core. This isn’t a new idea. Sen. Patrick Colbeck had similar legislation last session.

Massachusetts is held as the gold standard for schools, and much of its success started well before the Common Core, so Michigan lawmakers believe it serves a good model.

“Michigan students deserve the best standards, proven by actual test results,” Glenn said in a statement. “And ultimately, our own local school boards and educational leaders - not the federal government - know what’s best for Michigan students.”

The House’s Michigan Competitiveness Committee, chaired by Speaker Pro Tem Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, held a hearing on this issue Wednesday. Chatfield has supported repealing the standards.

But lawmakers must consider the costs of backing away from the Common Core. Schools have already implemented the standards and they have shaped teaching, curriculum and state tests. All that would have to change. The House Fiscal Agency says it would cost the state at least $27 million, but likely more. Other estimates put the cost as high as $300 million.

Changing the new M-STEP test, which is based on the Common Core and is only three years old, would also make it difficult to measure progress (or lack thereof) in classrooms and districts.

Michigan needs consistency. Schools can’t be expected to meet wildly changing targets.

Lawmakers should take solace in having Betsy DeVos as the new federal education chief. Even though she was an early proponent of the Common Core, she has also maintained her support of state control of schools.

The Legislature is right to want Michigan students meeting the best goals, but a complete overhaul would likely do more harm than good.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). March 15, 2017

Michigan must expand interlock requirements

In the past year, 2,182 Michigan drivers were prevented from driving drunk by interlock devices installed on their vehicles, according to an annual report from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

If that sounds like a lot, consider that interlock devices stopped 37,299 drunken driving attempts in Wisconsin last year, 15,107 in Iowa, 6,156 in Illinois and 10,245 in Arizona. The difference is not because those states have more drunken drivers. The difference is that Michigan’s drunken driving and interlock law could stand substantial improvement.

In 28 states, anyone convicted of drunken driving is ordered to install a interlock device for some period of time, from a few months to as long as a year. Other states require the devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting unless the driver blows an alcohol-free breath through it first, only for repeat offenders and some mandate them for only the worst offenders.

Michigan falls into the latter category.

Here, only the super-drunk are ordered to fit their vehicles with ignition interlock devices. Tommy Taylor, of Novi, had a blood alcohol level of 0.175 when he was arrested for the death of bicyclist Timothy Tacie. His blood alcohol level exceeded the 0.17 limit of Michigan’s interlock device law.

Drivers are considered drunk in Michigan and most other states when they have a blood alcohol level less than half that, 0.08 percent. In 28 states, that charge would require the driver to install an interlock device. Credit for the laws in those states goes both to compassionate lawmakers and to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

When MADD started its interlock campaign a decade ago, only New Mexico required interlocks for all drunken drivers. The group has pushed other states to adopt the same policy. Michigan is one of the states lagging behind.

MADD says Michigan needs to catch up by:

.Enacting an all-offender interlock law that would apply to everyone who fails the 0.08 standard, including those who plead to lesser charges;

.Allowing devices after arrest and not waiting for conviction; and

.Mandating them for drivers who refuse breath tests.

Michigan lawmakers can prevent tragedies and make our streets safer with an all-offender interlock law.

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Midland Daily News. March 17, 2017

Teaching students about our agricultural roots

Coleman Community Schools is taking a long-term approach toward engaging its students in the community’s agricultural roots with its AgKindergarten program.

The curriculum is designed to provide students with an appreciation for agriculture while incorporating reading, writing, math, science, engineering and technology.

All around both kindergarten classrooms are signs of the rural life, such as the farm stand from which students price out food items typically grown in gardens, which, in essence, is at the same time teaching math.

There are farm implements and rugs with rural scenes on which the tractors and such can be driven. There are sensory tables filled with a variety of items children can play with while developing their gross motor skills. Then there are books about every aspect of farming and growing things.

All these items were purchased with an $8,000 grant from Community Foundation Dow Corning Fund, and are designed to keep the students actively engaged in learning.

We applaud the school district for offering a hands-on, thought-provoking program that teaches children all about life around them.

As other districts emphasize STEM programs and nature-based learning, this is yet another approach offering educational diversity in our community. We’re confident it will pay off in the decades to come.

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Petoskey News-Review. March 16, 2017

Don’t risk the health of the Great Lakes

Thursday it was revealed the Trump administration’s budget would slash Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding completely, putting at risk the health of the Great Lakes. Previous information stated the fund would be cut from $300 million to $10 million, but apparently those reports were wrong. The new budget cuts all of the funding.

A clean and healthy Great Lakes are essential not only to the health of millions of people who live around these massive bodies of fresh water, but also the lifeblood to the economies of the entire region. This fund not only helps clean up the Great Lakes throughout the region, but also has major impacts within Northern Michigan.

Jennifer McKay, policy director for the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, said in a recent story in the Petoskey News-Review, locally the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has funded a stormwater wetland area at North Central Michigan College, area rain gardens, road-stream crossings to allow rivers to flow naturally and boat washing stations that prevent invasive species spread are all local examples of projects funded by the program.

And she said currently the council has a grant under the initiative to do research and to combat the spread of zebra and quagga mussels.

“(The initiative) has been an unbelievably successful program,” McKay said in the story. “It has been used to support over 3,000 restoration projects across the Great Lakes to improve water quality, protect and restore native habitat, clean up environmentally impaired areas of concern which are essentially the worst-of-the-worst sites.”

According to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s map of projects in Michigan, Northern Michigan has seen projects that restore wetlands and habitats, promote nearshore health and projects that combat invasive species as well as one that focused on cleaning up toxics in the Straits area.

And while the funding has significantly helped areas of Northern Michigan, McKay said there are still challenges in the Great Lakes.

“Despite the success we’ve had there’s obviously still threats that the Great Lakes are facing and there is a significant amount of work that we still have to do,” McKay said in the story. “The Great Lakes are still facing contamination, and invasive species and polluted runoff.”

These cuts in Trump’s budget proposal will cause irreversible harm to these successful programs that protect and clean the Great Lakes and impact our local communities.

We were pleased to hear that Congressman Jack Bergman seems to understand the damage such a cut would have on our area and has signed a bipartisan letter to the president calling for the $300 million in funding to remain in place.

In a statement to the Petoskey News-Review earlier this week - when it was believed the initiative’s budget would be cut $300 million to $10 million - he said, “As a Michigander and a member of the Great Lakes Task Force, I believe it’s our duty to be good stewards of our land, water and wildlife. The Great Lakes are one of Michigan’s most beautiful natural resources and a significant driver of our economy. They’re well worth our investment. That’s why I signed a bipartisan letter to the president last month calling for $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. I want to protect our Great Lakes. Needless to say, the early reports about cuts in funding are concerning, and I look forward to working with the Administration to make sure the GRLI is properly funded.”

But now the cut is even greater than we or Bergman feared. We urge Bergman to continue this fight for the Great Lakes now and in the future.

The Trump administration has put the health of the Great Lakes and the economies of the Great Lakes states in jeopardy with this budget. It is time for our elected officials to stand up and fight against it.

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