Legislators talk about key education bills that were struck down

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 11:43 am on Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, left, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, speak Monday afternoon during the monthly Legislative Luncheon at Montcalm Community College. — Daily News/Cory Smith

SIDNEY — One of the consequences of the legislative “lame duck” session, which occurs whenever one legislative body meets after its successor is elected, but before the successor’s term begins, is that it is common for a plethora of bills and laws to make their way through the house and senate and onto Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk without much discussion.

As Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, pointed out at Monday’s Legislative Luncheon meeting at Montcalm Community College, that was very much the case this year as nearly 190 bills were passed within a 24-hour period last week.

However, that was not the case with several important bills regarding education reform that had many associated with the Michigan Education Association (MEA) up in arms over whether certain bills would receive proper discussion before being signed into law.

Two particular bills, House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 620, which were both amendments to Public Act 451 from 1976 titled “The revised school code” would have changed the state of education in Michigan dramatically.

House Bill 6004, among other things, would have created a statewide takeover district by expanding the authority of the interlocal agreement between Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University that created the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), a virtual school district.

Senate Bill 620 would have allowed parents and teachers to vote to take control of a school building away from a school district and give it to an intermediate school district, community college, public university or state bureaucrats at the EAA.

Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, said a lame duck session was no place for bills of such importance to be discussed as they were ultimately passed over and will be disregarded when the new congressional session begins on Jan. 1.

“I felt that it was too much, too soon, too quick,” Emmons said.  “(The bills) needed to be examined much more thoroughly than time was going to allow. They made some progress, some improvements, but ultimately it just wasn’t exactly what should be proposed at this point in time. I’m just amazed that nothing at all passed regarding (those bills).”

Emmons sits on the five-member Michigan Education Committee, consisting of three Republican state senators and two Democrats, and sat in on committee hearings dealing directly with the two bills. She said the bills came before the committee and were discussed at length, consuming much of her time in recent weeks.

Had House Bill 6004 passed, the legislation would have expanded the EAA to the entire state, allowing it to absorb schools deemed by arbitrary and flawed ratings to be in the bottom 5 percent in the state.

Arguments from members of the MEA against an EAA expansion focused on the short lifespan of the virtual district, which has only been in operation in Detroit since the beginning of the school year.

Greenville Public Schools Board of Education President Janet Ralph recently voiced her opinion in a guest editorial in The Daily News, asking that more time be given to bills of such importance.

“As someone who cares very much about public schools, I am very concerned about some of the legislation that is being discussed in Lansing during this lame duck and holiday season,” she said. “I am especially concerned when I learn that many parents and other citizens are unaware of proposals that have the potential to radically change education as we know it in Michigan.”

Ralph, without mentioning specifics, cited a need to give items such as the EAA more time to develop to see if they would eventually be successful or not.

“I am not opposed to a robust conversation about improving the quality of schools,” she said. “I do object to important decisions being made in haste without full disclosure to the public, and possibly without thoughtful consideration by the legislators who vote on them. If they are good ideas, they deserve to be thoroughly vetted by the citizens whom they will affect.”

Emmons agreed more time was needed to weigh the effects House Bill 6004 would have on state education.

“It was a unique situation in that it would take the lowest achieving schools and they would be under a new management system, a new authorization, and it would be a unique way of delivering education,” she said. “My main concern was that they were being exempted from about three pages of the Michigan school code.”

Emmons cited examples such as not having to issue an annual report each year and being exempt from having students recite the pledge of allegiance.

“It made no sense that they would receive these kind of exemptions and all the rest of the schools receiving state aid would not,” she said. “We started working on those bills and it was a constant process for those two weeks. Ultimately nothing happened with that.”

Emmons described House Bill 6004 as the most controversial piece of legislation she had been dealing with recently next to the right-to-work legislation that was passed one week ago.

“This was for your lowest achieving 5 percent schools,” she said. “These are schools that zero percent of their students are reaching any kind of achievement in math, in language arts, and you can’t allow that to continue. Somewhere along the way there has to be an answer without usurping all of the local power as well.”

Emmons said she expects new legislation on the issue to be discussed within the next year.

“These are on hold until next year, as I ‘m sure something will come back, but thankfully it wasn’t the version that came through this year.”

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