Speak up on Evaluation, Snow Day Bills

In this last week before state lawmakers head into a two-week spring break, bills that would impact teacher evaluation and snow day waivers could be discussed in committees this week.

Make your voice heard with your state representative and senator on HB 4221 which would return the percentage of an educator’s annual evaluation that is tied to student growth measures to 25 percent from 40 percent.

Read more about the legislation, and tell your story to urge lawmakers to pass this long overdue legislation. Evaluation is scheduled to be a topic on the agenda for both the House and Senate Education Committees this week.

In addition, a bill that would permanently waive days that schools are closed during a state of emergency declared by the governor passed out of the Education Committee last week — without language that would hold hourly employees harmless in terms of lost pay for those days.

HB 4206 has been sent to the House Ways and Means committee for further review. Please contact your legislators and urge them to pass this legislation with protections for hourly employees, who have lost significant amounts of pay due to this winter’s extreme weather.

Michigan Educators Raise Concerns in Statewide Survey

Only 25 percent of all Michigan educators – and just 20 percent of teachers – would recommend a career in education to a young person they know, according to results released Wednesday from a statewide educator survey conducted last month.

Factors that most negatively affect Michigan educators’ professional satisfaction include lack of support from policymakers and politicians (72%) and lack of respect for the profession (66%), according to the survey of 16,878 educators conducted by Emma White Research LLC from Feb. 4-19.

The survey was fielded by Launch Michigan, a diverse alliance of education, labor, business and philanthropic organizations committed to establishing a shared agenda to ensure all Michigan students receive a best-in-class education.

MEA President Paula Herbart praised the effort to bring educators’ voices into the conversation about public education. The results show educators remain committed to their students but feel underappreciated, overworked, and unsupported.

“I hope that this survey will serve as a guidepost to an education agenda that drives innovation and success while respecting and honoring those who provide it,” Herbart said.

Excessive workload, bureaucracy and paperwork (64%) and better salaries in other fields (60%) were also top concerns cited by respondents, who included teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, counselors, media specialists, other professional ancillary staff, and education support professionals such as paraprofessionals, custodians, bus drivers, and secretaries.

“Teaching is a calling and a noble profession,” one survey participant said in an open-ended response. “The constant criticism from media and politicians is difficult. Not appreciated, valued or respected.”

Nearly 12 percent of those taking the survey say they plan to leave education for a different career over the next two to three years. Another 10 percent plan to retire.

According to researchers’ analysis of the data, important drivers for those who say they plan to leave include class sizes (having larger class sizes predicts leaving), and a number of attitudes and experiences, including feeling constrained rather than empowered in the classroom.

“I can’t emphasize enough the reason I will probably leave the field of education (the only thing I ever wanted to do) is more paperwork, less pay, less support,” one respondent said. “I’ve never before dreaded each day!”

After many years of declining state funding, educators see many priorities for improvement. The top three include reducing class sizes, increasing access to quality pre-school, and providing more funding to areas with the greatest student need.

On the other hand, educators believe standardized testing is not worth the money that the state already spends on it, the survey found. Only one in five educators says the information received from state assessments is worth the cost in time and effort.

One in four administrators feels the same way. Asked about the M-STEP in particular, twice as many educators say it is not useful as say it is useful—and among administrators that ratio is three-to-one.

Launch Michigan’s statewide survey was modeled after a similar educator survey fielded in Tennessee, where a nearly decade-long school improvement effort has yielded some promising results.

Key findings of the Michigan survey, including Tennessee comparisons:

  • Educators are relatively positive about climate at their own schools, though not as universally as in Tennessee.
    • 77% are “generally satisfied with being a teacher at this school” (87% in Tennessee);
    • 64% feel appreciated for the job they are doing (79% in Tennessee);
    • Just over half of teachers feel empowered to teach in the way that is best for their students (56%) rather than constrained (31%). In Tennessee, 73% feel empowered and only 13% constrained.
  • Educators lean toward negative views on the quality of the professional learning they receive and the fairness and value of the teacher evaluation process. We see big gaps when compared to Tennessee on these issues.
    • Just 43% report receiving professional learning suggestions tailored to them (compared to 77% in Tennessee).
    • Only half of teachers (47%) say the teacher evaluation process is fair and even fewer (35%) say it has improved their teaching (compared to 77% and 72% in Tennessee).
  • The data also reveal gaps in literacy supports – a critically important area, especially as Michigan moves toward implementation of the law requiring retention of 3rdgraders who do not meet literacy benchmarks.
    • Nearly a quarter of educators (24%) say their school is not ready to provide any additional support for students who are held back – this rises to over four in ten in certain types of urban districts, especially those with high poverty and low per pupil spending.
    • While majorities say their school libraries and classrooms have enough reading material for students, over three in ten do not – particularly in the same high poverty and lower-spending urban districts
  • Large majorities of educators say each of the policy solutions presented in the survey would improve schools.
    • Reducing class sizes (80% say it would make a “large impact”) and expanding access to high quality pre-school (65%) are the proposals most broadly identified as leading to big improvement in the schools.
    • Majorities also say allocating funding based on student need, effective mentoring for early-career teachers and principals, and expanding programs to connect families with social services will have a large impact.
    • Although fewer say additional literacy coaches would make a large impact (38%), this may be partly a function of awareness. Where literacy coaches and literacy interventionists are available (43% and 56% respectively say they have access to these supports), over two thirds of educators describe them as helpful.

The survey findings will be used by Launch Michigan to guide a set of policy recommendations it intends to propose to the Governor and state Legislature later this spring.

“This is a very rich set of data that provides Launch Michigan with a good read into the perceptions of front-line educators across the state,” White said. “The results show the passion that educators have for their students and their careers, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for education policy in this state.”


Michigan lawmakers may forgive snow days after frigid temps

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Michigan lawmakers may forgive snow days after frigid temps

Excerpt from Senate Bill 0113 of 2019

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Whitmer Makes Education a Priority

By Brenda Ortega
MEA Voice Editor

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer listed education funding along with fixing roads and other infrastructure as the top two priorities facing Michigan policymakers during her first State of the State address on Tuesday night.

Everyone can see the terrible condition of the state’s roads, and the average motorist spends $562 per year in car repairs from damage related to crumbling streets and highways – a “road tax that doesn’t even fix the damn roads,” Whitmer said.

Less visible is the education crisis confronting Michigan, although numerous studies from a variety of sources in recent years have documented parallels between stagnant or falling student performance indicators and our state’s worst-in-nation school funding decline.

Michigan ranks dead last among all states for per-pupil school funding increases since 1994. And over the past 15 years, Michigan students have shown the least improvement in the only assessment directly comparable state-to-state, the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“Let’s be clear,” Whitmer said. “This is not happening because Michigan kids are less talented. It’s not happening because our kids are less motivated. It’s not happening because our educators are less dedicated. It’s happening because generations of leadership have failed them.”

Whitmer pointed to repeated raids on the School Aid Fund and a 15 percent decrease in per-pupil spending over the past 25 years as examples of how multiple administrations and legislatures over the years have used K-12 education to fill gaps elsewhere in the state budget.

“I want to send a message to all of the devoted educators across Michigan: You’re not failing us. We have been failing you. Our educators deserve our support, not a funding crisis that undermines their work, weakens our schools and hurts our kids.

“We know that potential is universal, but right now opportunity is not. Our students are not broken. Our teachers are not broken. It’s our system that’s broken.”

Whitmer committed to introducing a state budget that “will give our frontline educators the tools they need to address our literacy crisis,” and she vowed to veto “anything that resembles the budget gimmicks and band-aids that have failed us in the past.”

MEA President Paula Herbart labeled Whitmer’s call to action on education funding a “welcome change” signaling the new governor’s commitment to listen to educators as dedicated professionals deserving of respect and support.

“Michigan teachers and education support professionals work every day, from pre-K through graduate school, to help every student succeed, often in tough situations,” Herbart said. “Michigan’s public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy and our economy, and I want to thank Gov. Whitmer for recognizing that our system – not our educators or our students – needs to be fixed.”

Other education announcements in the speech included a three-point plan for providing pathways to skills that lead to a good job.

Whitmer set a goal to increase the numbers of Michiganders who hold post-secondary degrees or skills certification to 60 percent by 2030 (from the current rate of 44 percent) to address a “skills gap” that threatens the state’s economic future.

“We used to think about careers in terms of ladders,” she said. “But today it’s more like rock-climbing. There are many paths to a good life, and we need to help people find the one that works for them.”

The first path Whitmer outlined targets adults who need additional training to find new in-demand careers, keep their jobs, or advance in their careers, an initiative called Michigan Reconnect.

A second path, the MI Opportunity Scholarship, will guarantee two years of debt-free community college for qualifying graduating high school students. The scholarship will launch this spring and be available for students in the fall of 2020.

“It will make Michigan the first Midwestern state to guarantee community college for all,” Whitmer said.

The MI Opportunity Scholarship also makes up the third pathway to skills by providing two years of tuition assistance at a four-year, not-for-profit college or university for students who graduate from a Michigan high school with at least a B grade-point average.

“A study last year found the average cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at a public four-year school in Michigan is almost $22,000 a year. That’s the tenth highest in the country, and it’s a complete barrier for a lot of people in our state.”

Whitmer said the budget she plans to introduce next month “will reflect my unwavering commitment to making Michigan the home for opportunity.”

And she issued an appeal for bipartisanship after acknowledging the common desire of all elected officials to ensure a positive future for our children and grandchildren.

“We all want what’s best for our communities and our state,” she said. “It’s important for us to remember that the enemy is not the person across the aisle. The enemy is apathy. The enemy is partisanship. The enemy is self-interest.”

Whitmer acknowledged that long-simmering problems will not be solved quickly or easily.

“I spent 14 years in the legislature, so I know how tough it is to keep the government funded and functioning. But I also know this: turning a blind eye or passing phony fixes won’t solve problems… Pretending that little increases can fix an education crisis. Playing a shell game with the state budget.”

Herbart agreed: “We can and must work together – across party and ideological divides – to accomplish our goals for our students and our state.  To that end, MEA is proud to be part of Launch Michigan, an alliance working together across the education, business and philanthropic communities to find common ground on education policy.”

Whitmer concluded her speech by drawing on the imagery of the Mackinac Bridge and an inscription on the back of a commemorative coin from its opening more than 60 years ago: “Built by the will of a great people, upon foundations of Michigan’s faith in her future.”

“We are still a great people,” she said. “We still have the will. We still have faith. The question is: Do we have the wisdom to put partisanship aside and get the job done for the people we serve? I think we do. So let’s get to work.”

MEA’s Recap of 2018 Lame Duck Session

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The 2018 Lame Duck session is in the books and while some negative legislation passed, many of the significant attacks on public education, labor unions and the incoming Democratic administration were either stopped in the Legislature or vetoed by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder. Of note:

– HB 5707, which would have kept the percentage of teacher evaluations at 25 percent instead of increasing to 40 percent this school year, died in the State Senate after passing the House. MEA will work to have this legislation reintroduced and passed in 2019.

– Watered-down legislation creating an A-F grading system for schools (HB 5526) passed, but left much of the control for the new system in the hands of the Michigan Department of Education, rather than creating a new “shadow” school board. MDE has already asked Attorney General Nessel to weigh in on how this new law may conflict with federal rules under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

– New online sales tax revenue was diverted from the School Aid Fund to road and environmental projects under late-night amendments to HB 4991. NOTE: this is NOT a cut to current per pupil funding – the additional funding from the online sales tax had not been appropriated yet and is not part of this year’s budgeted state school aid payments. However, it IS money that should have gone into the School Aid Fund to allow for increases in coming years.

– Bills attacking labor rights – including release time (SB 795-796), recertification elections (SB 1260), and banning bargaining over calendar and schedule (HB 4163) – were all stopped in the Legislature, thanks in large part to the thousands of calls and emails from MEA members to lawmakers.

– Several bills attempting to limit the power of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson were either stopped in the Legislature or were vetoed by Gov. Snyder in the final days of his term.

For a complete status rundown of the bills that MEA lobbyists were monitoring in Lame Duck, read MEA’s Lame Duck Recap memo.


Lame Duck 2018 Over

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Lame Duck 2018 OVER

We are pleased to report that, just after 8a on Friday, Dec. 21, the Legislature adjourned, ending the 2018 Lame Duck session.

While we certainly had some losses, including the School Aid Fund raid executed overnight (see below), of note the Legislature took no final action on union release time, union recertification elections, exclusive representation, or broader threats to collective bargaining. 

Other than the A-F bill (which was seriously watered down) and the loss of a potential $95 per pupil for next year (which wouldn’t have made much of a dent in the nearly $2,000 per pupil shortfall – an issue about which we’ll be working hard with our new governor over the coming months), MEA survived Lame Duck without significant damage…something difficult to imagine 4 weeks ago as we faced a true lame duck legislature and the political power shifts coming out of the election.

This Lame Duck saw nearly 400 bills pass and head to the governor for signature – many of which the governor has not signed yet. Between now and the New Year, we’ll be monitoring which bills become law and which may be vetoed as Snyder heads for the exits, including the few executive power grab bills that did pass this past week. As President Herbart said in her Detroit News column on Wednesday, “[Snyder] can choose to listen to the voices of millions of voters – or bow to the vengeful wishes of defeated politicians tearing down our democratic institutions on their way out the door. The state is watching, and history will remember.”

After the holiday break, we will do a more in-depth analysis of the bills that do become law related to education and labor issues – but with nearly 400 bills to wade through, that will take some time to complete.

For now, we want to thank all our members who took the time to contact lawmakers this month. We know the calls and emails may feel like they don’t work, but they absolutely make a difference in our ability to stop (or improve) bad legislation. THANK YOU to everyone who helped mobilize our members to be part of the fight for our students, our schools and our profession!


School Aid Tax Shift Passes in Late Night Session

Just prior to 2 a.m., the State House barely passed HB 4991, a bill which was used to move a Lame Duck raid of School Aid Fund tax revenue in favor of increased funding for road and environmental projects. The Senate concurred in the amended bill, and both chambers acted early this morning on a supplemental appropriations bill to spend this and other surplus revenue before the new Whitmer administration can propose a new budget.

The bill reduces the amount of income tax earmarked for the School Aid Fund to offset increased revenue from the online sales tax that goes directly to the SAF. Similar to the shell game where Lottery revenue goes to schools only to allow other revenue to flow elsewhere, this measure would reduce the revenue in the SAF available to fund K-12 schools.

This is NOT a cut to current per pupil funding – the additional funding from the online sales tax had not been appropriated yet and is not part of this  year’s budgeted state school aid payments. However, it IS money that should have gone into the School Aid Fund to allow for increases in coming years.

The bill includes an amendment that would “hold harmless” the current overall level of school funding if revenues fall below projections. However, in a textbook example of late night Lame Duck legislating, a proposed three-year sunset on the legislation morphed into a sunset on the hold harmless language – not the tax shift.

In the end, the lost revenue could have translated to per pupil increases of $95 in 2018-19, $117 in 2019-20 and $120 in 2020-21. While those amounts would not have closed the nearly $2,000 shortfall in per pupil funding identified by the School Finance Research Collaborative, this legislation yet again prioritizes funding other projects over the education of Michigan’s children. We will be hard at work with the incoming Whitmer administration to address our broken school funding system and ensure our students get the adequate funding they deserve.

Thanks to all the MEA members who contacted lawmakers to oppose this tax shift, which passed in the House with the bare majority of votes needed. The pressure from back home made this a difficult vote for legislators to take, and prompted strong remarks from opponents, including Republican Rep. Martin Howrylak of Troy, who remarked on the floor about the unwise nature of the legislation and the amendment sunsetting the hold harmless provision.  Howrlyak initially sponsored the original version of HB 4991, but had his name stripped as a sponsor (along with several other colleagues) when the bill was used as a vehicle for the tax shift.


UPDATE: 3% Case to be heard by Michigan Supreme Court

MEA statement regarding Supreme Court decision to hear Snyder appeal on 3 percent lawsuit



June 1, 2017 — The following can be attributed to MEA President Steven Cook in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear Gov. Snyder’s appeal in the long-running lawsuit regarding the 3 percent of salary illegally taken from school employees paychecks:


“We are disappointed in the decision by the Michigan Supreme Court to grant the Snyder administration’s application for leave to appeal on the 3 percent case. MEA and our coalition of plaintiffs have won at every level this case has been heard.

“It has been seven years since trial court originally ruled that PA 75 was unconstitutional. The case history since then clearly shows the withholding of the 3 percent from school employee’s paychecks was in direct violation of the Michigan Constitution.

“We look forward to presenting our case to the Supreme Court and to the day when school employees across the state will receive the money that was illegally taken from them.”

“The mission of the MEA is to ensure that the education of our students and the working environments of our members are of the highest quality.”