Gov. to sign new education legislation todayPublished 11:08am Monday, January 4, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to sign legislation today that could open the door to federal dollars for Michigan schools as well as impose changes to districts statewide.
Those changes so far include a state takeover of the lowest achieving 5 percent of Michigan schools as well as a raise of the dropout age from 16 to 18.
The legislation is part of Michigan’s bid for “Race to the Top” grant funds. Through the program, $400 million in federal grant money has been offered up to schools nationwide. Those states interested in competing for the money, however, will have to make changes to their educational standards in order to qualify.
Last month, school officials were concerned over just what those changes would be – and though the governor is expected to sign legislation today, there remain a lot of unanswered questions.
“The board will be discussing it tonight,” Niles Superintendent Doug Law said Monday morning.
District superintendents had been asked to sign a memorandum of understanding – something many were reluctant to do without additional information. Those who haven’t signed the document, including Niles Community Schools, have until Jan. 7 to do so.
“We support most of those concepts that are in the Race to the Top,” said John Jarpe, superintendent of Brandywine Community Schools. “The only thing that we’re uncertain about is the cost of the thing. If we apply for the grant, we just want to be sure that in the long run it’s not going to cost us more.”
Jarpe said his board of education had made the recommendation to sign the memo “if everything is a go” and the teacher’s union was also in support.
Law said he and the Niles board are expecting additional information in the coming days that is “probably going to be important for us before we make a decision” whether or not to sign the memo.
He added he was “cautiously positive” about the new legislation.
With severe state budget cuts passed down to districts throughout the state this year and next, school officials have been drawing up lists of options for where they might be able to curb expenses and save money.
A raise in the dropout age means that if districts like Niles had been viewing cutting back on their alternative educational services, such a consideration may have to come off the table.
“It means you’d need some programs for these 16, 17 and 18 year olds to meet their needs,” Law said.
“That could affect us some,” Jarpe said. “We have an alternative school now. We encourage all of our students who are potential dropouts or at-risk to enroll here at Bell. I’m glad we have that school in place.”
The legislation, Law said he believes, would begin affecting this year’s sixth-graders – giving officials time to plan for the future.
The board will hold a planning session tonight and discuss “Race to the Top,” and will hold their next meeting Monday, Jan. 11.