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Snyder signs Michigan teacher retirement reforms

Lansing – Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday signed into law controversial legislation to overhaul Michigan’s teacher retirement system and steer new hires into 401(k)-style savings accounts rather than hybrid pensions. The plan faced opposition from public education groups but was a top priority for GOP legislators who say it could help the state avoid adding to the $29.1 billion in unfunded liabilities accrued in an older pension plan closed to new hires in 2010. Snyder opposed an earlier plan to close the hybrid pension system completely. But he negotiated the final product and signed it one day after the Legislature approved a separate business tax incentive plan he had prioritized, his last chance to do so under a 14-day rule. (Detroit News)

Related story:

> MLive: Changes to Michigan's teacher retirement system signed into law by Gov. Snyder


Michigan preparing for discussion with feds on school accountability plan

State Superintendent Brian Whiston says he's ready to begin discussions with the U.S. Department of Education on the state's plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the nation's new federal education law. Whiston, in a news release, said he's spoken by phone with a "top official" at the federal education department and that he expects to receive a letter asking for clarification on elements of Michigan's ESSA compliance plan, which covers areas such as how to hold accountable the state's lowest performing schools. As of Thursday afternoon, the Michigan Department of Education has not received that letter, spokesman Martin Ackley said. (MLive)


Transgender bathroom restrictions won't land school district in court

JENISON, MI - An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says the organization won't challenge Jenison Public Schools transgender bathroom guidelines in court, despite the "very negative message'' being sent. Jay Kaplan, attorney with the ACLU of Michigan's LBGT Project, said he is hopeful two cases currently in federal court can be the catalyst for change. "To bring a legal challenge would take much longer than what could be happening in the 6th Circuit of Appeals,'' he said. Kaplan has been lobbying Jenison to allow transgender students to use the bathroom in accordance with their gender identity since a high school student complained to the group over spring break. (MLive)


How court decision hailed by Betsy DeVos could impact Michigan's private school funding fight

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Missouri's denial of a maintenance grant to a religious preschool has relatively little impact on a Michigan lawsuit over $2.5 million in state funding for nonpublic schools, two legal experts say. Last month, the high court ruled 7-2 that the state of Missouri violated the U.S. Constitution's free exercise of religion clause when it denied Trinity Lutheran Church, of Columbia, Mo., a grant to resurface its playground. The ruling was hailed by school choice advocates, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, as a victory for religious freedom and efforts to provide public funding for private schools. (MLive)


Rockford teachers ratify first multi-year contract in years

ROCKFORD, MI - Rockford Public Schools new three-year contract with its teachers union is a departure from what has been a series of one-year deals. The new agreement calls for teachers to see a .6 percent salary increase the first year and a .3 percent hike the second year. There is a freeze the third year, unless student enrollment increases by over 100 kids. "In year one, the average teacher would get about a $350 increase,'' said assistant superintendent of Human Resources Doug VanderJagt. "They would also get a step incremental (based on years on the job), which ranges from $2,500 down to $100 but most would get anywhere from $100 to $1,000.'' (MLive)


Kalamazoo schools spend $44,450 on lawsuits against state

KALAMAZOO, MI -- Kalamazoo Public Schools has spent $44,450 on two lawsuits against the state, neither of which are likely to be resolved anytime soon. The district is the plaintiff in cases filed with the Michigan Court of Claims on Feb. 22 and March 21. The first is against the School Reform Office for its effort to close 38 low-performing schools, and another is over reimbursements to private schools. Director of Communications Alex Lee said the legal fees are covered by the general fund, which is supported by local, state and federal dollars. (MLive)


Grand Rapids new union deal bumps up teacher pay, changes salary format

GRAND RAPIDS, MI - Grand Rapids school leaders and its teachers union are praising a new contract with a revamped salary schedule that boosts the starting salary of teachers more than $3,400 and provides salary hikes for mid-career educators. "This product is the result of a very collaborative, cooperative process between the parties from the beginning," said Joe Washington, Michigan Education Association (MEA) Uniserv Director. "This does a great job of helping keep teachers and ancillary staff in Grand Rapids because we saw we were losing quality people. Although we are not where we want to be, we are moving in that direction.'' (MLive)





Detroit '67: 1966 student walkout at Northern a sign of things to come

It's been more than 50 years since Ivory Williams sat down with his high school guidance counselor George Grech, but the Detroiter can still remember their conversation, in the spring of 1966, with extraordinary clarity. Williams had walked into the discussion thinking it would be somewhat perfunctory. A junior at Northern High School — a since-closed Detroit public school on Woodward and Clairmount, around the corner from his childhood home — the then 16-year-old anticipated a simple discussion about the classes he would take his senior year. (Detroit Free Press)


Former teachers and principals on team helping to lift Detroit schools

Nikolai Vitti has wasted no time in rebuilding the Detroit Public Schools Community District, orchestrating a revamp of his cabinet and the central office staff that has led to the departures of some of the district's top leaders, but has brought in people he says will be key to the academic turnaround that's needed. Vitti, who began the job as superintendent of the district May 23, has built a cabinet that includes a mix of people who've been with the district for years; several who've worked in education in Detroit, including a former assistant chancellor from the Education Achievement Authority; two people he worked with in Jacksonville, Fla., including that district's former chief of schools, and a woman who led the Detroit Parent Network.  (Detroit Free Press)


Detroit district may rethink authorizing charter schools

From almost the moment Michigan began allowing charter schools more than 20 years ago, the Detroit school district has been active in authorizing them. But that could soon change. Members of the board of education for the district have indicated in recent meetings they want to have a deep discussion about the district's role as an authorizer — a role that has contributed to the growth of charter schools in the city. And last week, new Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he would recommend the Detroit  Public Schools Community District get out of the charter school authorization business and instead focus its efforts on improving traditional public schools. (Detroit Free Press)


Detroit district seeks to renegotiate Durfee school $1-a-year lease agreement

Detroit schools officials are seeking to renegotiate an agreement — entered into in the waning days of state control last year — that turned one of the district's schools over to a nonprofit that is creating a small-business incubator inside the building. But the renegotiation likely won't satisfy some of the biggest critics of the $1-a-year lease agreement, including some members of the district's board of education who want the Durfee Elementary-Middle School building to continue educating students. Life Remodeled, the nonprofit, plans to turn Durfee, at 2470 Collingwood, into a community center that houses businesses and organizations. In May, Life Remodeled had commitments from companies to locate inside the building, including a pizzeria and organizations that will teach students to write software codes and excel in music. (Detroit Free Press)


Detroit's Southeastern High name change hits snag

Plans to change the name of Detroit's Southeastern High School hit a snag before the Detroit board of education tonight, with members opting to put off making a decision in order to seek more input from the community over the name. The board's academics subcommittee last week had OK'd the change to Southeastern College Preparatory High School. That change would go along with a new academic focus at the school. Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, the school will become an examination school, meaning students would have to take and pass an exam in order to gain entry. (Detroit Free Press)


Detroit schools fined for drinking water violation

A state workplace safety and health agency has fined Detroit’s public school district for violating sanitation laws at one of its schools as recently as May 31 and ordered that potable water be provided by July 24. According to a June 20 ruling by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Detroit Public Schools Community District did not provide employees at John R. King Academy with potable water for hand washing, food washing, washing, eating and cooking utensils during an inspection period from March 30 to May 31, when school was in session. The state agency fined the Detroit district $4,000 and ordered it to provide clean water at the school in the next three weeks. (Detroit News)





Grand Valley State trustees OK new building, tuition hike

GRAND RAPIDS — Trustees at Grand Valley State University have approved a new $70-million building project in Grand Rapids. The university says Friday that the project will create more space for the school's health professions and nursing programs. The state Legislature has approved a capital outlay request of $29 million for the five-story, 160,000-square-foot building. The school says remaining funds will come from private donors and university bonds. Construction is expected to start next June. Grand Valley State's main campus is in Allendale, west of Grand Rapids. (Detroit Free Press)

Related story:

> MLive: GVSU increases tuition by 4.11 percent


Education official: ‘I am sorry’ for assault remarks

Washington — The Education Department’s top civil rights official’s “flippant” remarks are raising questions about the government’s commitment to fighting campus sexual violence, even as she issued her second apology in as many days for attributing 90 percent of sexual assault claims to both parties being drunk. Candice Jackson, assistant secretary for civil rights, told victims of sexual assault meeting with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday that she was sorry for her remarks. “As much as I appreciate apologies, which are difficult, unfortunately, there’s no way to take it back. It’s out there,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, who attended the meeting and relayed Jackson’s apology Thursday. “What’s extremely important now is that they do the hard work to counter those sorts of rape myths. They need to explicitly reject them.”

Related story:

> Washington Post: DeVos: Too many college students have been treated unfairly under Obama-era sexual assault policy





Prospects Seem Dim for Trump School Choice Initiative This Year

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos came to Washington primarily to do one thing: Use the power of her office to expand school choice, her passion for decades. Members of her own party appeared to deal a major blow to that goal Thursday, when the House panel charged with overseeing education spending approved a bill that doesn't include two of DeVos' big budget asks: using an education research program to offer school vouchers, and allowing Title I dollars to follow students to the school of their choice. DeVos, so far, is undaunted. (Education Week)


NEA President: 'No Reason to Trust' Betsy DeVos

The nearly 3 million member National Education Association is facing a rocky road ahead, including a projected loss of membership and a chilly relationship with the Trump administration. Teachers’ union President Lily Eskelsen García sat down with Education Week to talk about a range of issues facing the union, including its engagement with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the threat posed by a looming U.S. Supreme Court case, and the NEA’s new, tougher charter-school policy. Excerpts follow.  The transcript has been edited for length and clarity. (Education Week)


Beware the Four-Day School-Week Trap

Opinion: As many school districts around the nation grapple with declines in state funding, some district leaders are arriving at a questionable solution: Cut the school week to four days. But are these districts adopting the shorter week without both considering other ways to save money and counting the risks to students? In Oklahoma, where nearly a hundred school districts have shifted to four-day weeks, districts that cut instructional days still keep classrooms open for the same number of hours per year by extending the remaining school days, according to The Washington Post. (Education Week)

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