Lame Duck Recap
Lame duck 2016 is in the books and it was a reasonably successful one for MASSP and the education community. Two major initiatives that could have cost schools millions of dollars—MPSERS reform and an income tax shift—both came up short. And several other education bills that did pass did so either with the support of the education community or only after the concerns of the education community were addressed. Here's the rundown…
During the first week of lame duck, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out a three bill package that would close the MPSERS pension system for new hires and instead move them into a 401k-style system. But that's as far as it got. The bills never received a vote on the Senate floor and on Tuesday of last week, staff for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) declared the issue dead for this session. We know that pension reform is a priority of both the Senate Majority Leader, who will return next session, and the incoming Speaker of the House, so expect that this debate is a to-be-continued issue, but we won't see any hasty, last minute retirement changes this year.
The second week of lame duck gave birth to a new proposal that would hurt schools: a change in tax policy to have the School Aid Fund pay a portion of income tax returns. After spending all of the second week of lame duck trying unsuccessfully to whip votes, the Governor's office announced that the idea would be shelved until next year, but did indicate that it will reintroduce the issue next session. Bottom line: this proposal will resurface during next spring's budget debate.
A bill that would have required every student to take and pass the civics portion of the US citizenship test as a condition of graduation was substituted in the Senate Education Committee before making it the rest of the way through the process. The change resolved the education community's concerns about creating a graduation test and imposing new testing requirements. HB 4136 will now integrate the content of the US citizenship test as part of the high school social studies content standards and include a sampling of that content on the high school social studies M-STEP. MDE is already in the process of revising Michigan's social studies content standards and test, so this can be included during that process to ensure a seamless transition for schools. Since the content of the US citizenship test is basic civics and history knowledge, this should not pose any problems for schools or students.
It was declared dead, but Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley managed to breathe life back into HB 5409-17, which eventually made it all the way to the Governor's desk. This large package of legislation would amend Michigan's School Code to effectively overhaul Michigan's laws on the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. In a sentence, the bills seek to take the state model policy on seclusion and restraint (which is already available as a voluntary resource for schools) and make it a mandatory state law. While the ambitious scope of the effort and the fact that it is being applied to all students, not just special education students, has the potential to raise all sorts of concerns, the bills have been heavily amended from their original form to address issues raised by the school community.
This package of bills will allow Michigan schools to consider a number of new mitigating factors in zero tolerance suspension and expulsion cases. The bill is not perfect and will require some small changes to the way districts handle suspension and expulsion--particularly suspensions over 10 days. But the major concerns of the school community were addressed before the bills crossed the finish line and the changes would not take effect until the 2017-18 school year, so Principals will have time to adapt. MASSP will provide members with a full and detailed update once the legislation is signed by the Governor, including practical advice for dealing with the changes the bills create.
SB 647, which will amend Michigan's health content standards to include instruction in CPR and AED usage, also made it across the finish line. As originally introduced, the legislation would have required students to successfully complete CPR training as a condition for graduation. However, MASSP was successful in working with the bill sponsor and interest groups to redirect their efforts toward the much less intrusive path of adding content to Michigan's health education standards that will provide students with awareness of CPR and AEDs without requiring any specific instruction or certification.
The legislature will not adjourn sine die until December 28, but they will not be doing any other business this year. All bills that did not pass will die and have to be reintroduced next year and start the process over again. The next big battle will be the 2017-18 budget debate which will start in late January or early February with the next Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference and the Governor's executive budget recommendation.