Outman, Emmons talk about Education Achievement Authority

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 11:44 am on Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A crowd attending the monthly Legislative Update meeting at Montcalm Community College listens Monday afternoon as Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, discuss a bill concerning the Education Achievement Authority. — Daily News/Cory Smith

SIDNEY — A controversial bill that died before appearing before the state House of Representatives or state Senate in December has emerged with new life after passing before the House last Thursday.

The establishment of the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), which is defined in House Bill 4269, was approved by the House in a narrow 57-53 vote. The bill must pass in the Senate and be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in order to become a law.

Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, voted “yes” on the bill, and elaborated on the topic during Monday afternoon’s Legislative Update at Montcalm Community College.

“It’s controversial,” Outman said. “The idea behind it is, the lowest 5 percent of achieving schools in the state will be placed under the Educational Achievement Authority.”

According to a summary of the bill released by bill sponsor Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, the authority would oversee a separate Michigan school district called the “reform district,” whose leader, known as the chancellor, would have the powers of a school superintendent, and whose constituent schools would comprise those school buildings statewide where student achievement, as measured on state tests, fell within the lowest 5 percent of Michigan schools for three consecutive years.

“We don’t want to limit this to just Detroit, because there are low achieving schools outside of Detroit,” Outman said. “This bill has really gone through a lot of changes since it’s inception. I’ve worked closely with our Intermediate School District superintendent to address the concerns of our local ISD boards. We wanted more local control, that’s really what we held out for with this legislation.”

According to the summary report, the number of schools in the authority could never exceed 50. Up to 15 would be allowed through June 30, 2013; up to 27 through June 30, 2014; up to 37 through June 30, 2015; and no more than 50 thereafter.

Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, left, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, discuss a bill concerning the Education Achievement Authority that was passed by the House of Representatives on March 21. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Outman said changes were made to create an “exit strategy” known as a “turnaround plan” for schools to be removed from the list of lowest performing schools and, potentially, from the EAA.

“It takes three years of being in the lowest 5 percent to be placed in the EAA,” he said. “As soon as you are listed in the bottom 5 percent, the first step a school must do is create a turnaround plan.The idea behind this is not that we want schools on the EAA, we want schools to perform well. The idea behind it is to prevent a school from entering the EAA.”

According to the summary, the schools, known as “achievement schools,” could leave the system when their students’ test scores improved enough to lift the school out of the bottom 5 percent for four consecutive years. Students in the achievement schools would be taught by certificated teachers, however, collectively bargained contracts would be cancelled when a school entered the “achievement authority.”

House Bill 4369 would eliminate the current prohibition that prevents unilateral changes in pay scales or benefits when developing addendums to collective bargaining contracts.  It also would eliminate the teachers’ participation in the teachers’ pension system while employed in achievement schools.

Unlike earlier versions of the EAA legislative proposal, House Bill 4369 does not provide for a statewide inventory of unused school buildings so they can be leased or sold to other educational entities, either public (such as charter schools) or nonpublic schools or entities.  House Bill 4369 does, however, enable school districts to transfer their buildings to the achievement authority, allowing the authority to either acquire or lease them.

Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, who serves on the State Education Committee, said she had reservations about the original bill that was proposed in December and has not had a chance to read the bill passed by the House, as it has not yet arrived at the Senate.

“I do serve on the education committee in the senate, and I have toured schools in Detroit such as Henry Ford High School and Nolan Elementary School,” Emmons said. “I’ll be honest, I had great reservations about this proposal last term because the bill that was proposed made great allowances for schools in the Education Achievement Authority.”

Emmons said it is difficult to elaborate on the current bill without first having a chance to read it.

“Clearly they have made changes and they were changes that were necessary,” she said.

However, while visiting schools in Detroit, Emmons said she was pleased with what she heard from students currently in the achievement system.

“I asked the students there what was different from the year they were under the EAA as opposed to the previous year,” she said. “They told me, ‘We cant get away with doing nothing.’ The kids in the elementary school told me, ‘we are doing more in our classrooms.’”

Emmons said she would like to see how things fare with those students and schools at the conclusion of this school year.

“We’re waiting to see what happens at the end of this year to see what kind of progress they are making,” she said. “These two particular schools appear to be making significant progress for most of the students.”

Emmons added, however, that the schools do now have corporate funding.

“They have additional funding that comes from outside traditional education funding,” she said. “Those sponsors are doing everything they can do to make sure this succeeds, because they want this to succeed.”

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