Intervention in schools challenged

LANSING (AP) — Michigan should replace a law that lets the state intervene in academically failing schools because the 7-year-old measure is flawed, a key senator said Tuesday.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov will introduce the repeal legislation Wednesday, when the Republican-led Legislature begins a new two-year term. His announcement came before the release of the latest list of Michigan’s bottom 5 percent of public schools by month’s end.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration has said state-ordered school closures, an unused option allowed under the 2009 law, could be coming for chronically ­under-performing K-12 schools that haven’t improved despite receiving other forms of intervention.

Pavlov said the measure, which former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed to improve Michigan’s chances to win a federal grant, is “riddled with flaws” and was not taken seriously for a number of years. In 2015, the Republican governor took control of an office charged with turning around the lowest-performing schools.

“Now that there’s this new focus that something has to be done, we’re relying on a section of law that is ambiguous in a lot of ways,” said Pavlov, a St. Clair Township Republican who spent the last year holding hearings and receiving input on the law. “The metrics of getting on the list are flawed, as are the metrics of getting off of the list.”

The rankings are based on test results, students’ improvement over time, and the gap between the best and worst pupils. Schools in the bottom 5 percent must develop a reform plan and, if they are not successful, could be put into a state turnaround district and possibly be closed.

Pavlov’s announcement was welcomed by education leaders.

“Efforts to improve schools using this law have largely led to a confusing and irrational bureaucracy of red tape, with no demonstrable successes,” said Mark Burton, executive director of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, which represents districts in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. “Such efforts have also unfortunately clouded the good work that happens every day throughout many challenged schools across the state.”

Associations representing publicly funded charters schools and their authorizers also applauded the move.

Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the state Department of Technology, Management & Budget, which houses the school reform/redesign office, said the school-intervention law “has its challenges and needs to be looked at again, and we look forward to working with the Legislature on their thoughts around improving the language.”

Also Tuesday, a group including education and business officials and former Republican House Speaker Rick Johnson announced an initiative to study how schools are funded. The School Finance Research Collaborative, which is receiving $100,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and hopes to raise more, said it wants to finish the report within a year and build upon a state-funded study that was released in June.

Wanda Cook-Robinson, the superintendent of Oakland Schools, an intermediate district, said the state study did not look at districts with higher numbers of special education students or English-language learners, nor charter schools.

“How do we fund in a way that is not just adequate but is strategic in the way we deploy scare resources in our state? I don’t start with, ‘All we have to do is get more money and put it through the same system,” said Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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