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Status report: Where do we stand today? (Race to the Top)

It has been a busy few months at both the state and local levels, and we at MIPFS have fallen behind in our reporting on state-wide issues. In an effort to remedy that, these status reports will give brief summaries of what has happened on the school funding front over the last few months. More detailed reports on each of these issues are coming in the next weeks. In these reports, we'll cover three areas: *The school aid budget cuts for 2009-10, legislation that was part of Michigan's Race to the Top application, and school funding-related issues in the current 2010-11 budget debate.* h3. Lurching toward the Top For much of December, the Legislature was consumed with bills that lawmakers hoped would increase Michigan's chances to get a share of Federal "Race to the Top" funds. Money from this stimulus program would be awarded to states which came out on top in a competition which evaluated reform efforts, and Michigan might have qualified for as much as $400 million. In the end, Michigan was not chosen as one of the finalists for the first round of funding, but the changes to Michigan law enacted in late December are not voided as a result. The package of bills ("see the House Fiscal Agency analysis here":http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2009-2010/billanalysis/House/pdf...) made sweeping changes in a number of key areas. New rules gave the state government unprecedented authority to intervene in "failing" schools and school districts; allow a new class of charter school to be created, increasing their total numbers; allowing alternate paths to certification for teachers and require that teacher pay and promotion decisions be based on measures of student "growth"; and raising the drop-out age to 18. There were struggles over the school-takeover provisions, since it gave state-appointed emergency managers wide discretion to simply void contracts with teacher and other employee unions. Also left unclear was an emergency manager's authority vis-a-vis the elected school board on academic, as well as financial, issues. The creation of new opportunities for charter schools to be started as "Schools of Excellence" increased the worries of traditional public school districts that charters would continue to bleed students, and therefore state funds, away from their schools, magnifying the current budget crisis. Also contentious were provisions to allow alternative pathways for teacher certification. Supporters saw this as a way of allowing skilled professionals to join the teaching ranks without having to repeat their undergraduate education. Opponents worried that unqualified teachers would be produced by these rules, especially for areas - such as elementary education - for which other professional preparation is not really germane. In the end, the new rules required non-traditional teacher candidates to still take many key education courses, and exempted special education teachers from alternative certification. Many details of how the new rules will be interpreted remain to be worked out, as will how some of these provisions will be funded in the absence of new Federal funds.
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