Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

March 21, 2014

House OKs troubled school bill

LANSING (AP) — The Republican-led House narrowly approved legislation Thursday changing a state turnaround district that can take over the lowest-performing 5 percent of public schools, a year after it first approved a version that ran into resistance from GOP senators.

The bill, which passed 56-54 and goes back to the Senate, would allow no more than 50 schools in the statewide district at any time, put a priority on intervening in K-8 schools and prohibit new schools from being added until the 2015-16 academic year.

The legislation is controversial because the entity acting as the turnaround district now — the Education Achievement Authority running 15 Detroit schools — has been subject to debate over its effectiveness and been criticized by Democrats. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan recently terminated a contract giving the fledgling authority exclusive functions of the turnaround district.

The measure also would let intermediate school districts, charter schools or other local school districts choose to manage low-performing schools instead of the state reform district. Empowering the local districts is important for some House Republicans who reason that local interventions are better than state takeovers.

A school could not be placed in the turnaround district unless it is in the bottom 5 percent of student test scores for two straight years.

Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, said “there is not one additional school that has to go into the EAA” under the bill and he would be surprised if any more do. He voted for it after being assured intermediate school districts could have a role at least initially.

“Opposition to this bill means you are fine with these kids being locked in abysmally failing schools,” McMillin said.

Democrats, though, said the EAA has been a failure and the bill would not prevent the state from adding more schools to it after the exclusive contract ends.

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