Lame Duck Update - Week 2
Two weeks down, one to go. And while only a few issues have made it across the finish line, there is still plenty outstanding and the clock hasn't run out yet. Let's review the last week's worth of activity and see where the still outstanding issues are standing.
Last week, 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. Those bills are now awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, but no vote has yet materialized. On Tuesday, staff for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) announced that the Senate would not end up taking up the issue during lame duck, but suggested that it would likely resurface next year. While this issue seems dead for now, there is still a week left of lame duck session and it could always resurface if the votes materialize. Additionally, 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 at the very least.
After spending the all week trying unsuccessfully to whip votes, the Governor's office announced late Thursday that a proposal to have the School Aid Fund pay a portion of income tax returns would be shelved until the next legislature is sworn in come January. The proposal was initially billed as a technical fix to Michigan's tax system, distributing the burden for income tax refund payments across the recipients of initial tax revenue. However, in practice it would have transferred around $430 million, or $300 in per pupil spending, out of the SAF. While the issue may be dead for now, the Governor's office did indicate that it will reintroduce the issue next session. It seems likely that this will become part of next year'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 has been substituted in the Senate Education Committee. The change resolves the education community's concerns about creating a graduation test and imposing new testing requirements. The bill 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.
This bill package is a clear illustration that nothing truly dies during lame duck. Early in the lame duck session the House GOP caucused on this legislation and after that meeting an expected floor vote on the bills was cancelled. The common wisdom was that the bills were dead. Then, on Wednesday, the bills suddenly went up for a vote and passed with a surprisingly large margin. The bills' primary champion, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is now trying to get them across the finish line in the Senate with just one week of session left. It's future in the Senate is questionable since the package is a huge shift in policy, but then again, we've been here before.
For those not familiar with the bills, 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.
While nothing has moved yet on this legislation, it is a prime candidate to pass during the last week of lame duck. If it moves, the signs point to the legislation being amended to fix the problems that caused the school community to move from support to opposition on the bills. Even if these bills move, any changes would not take effect until the 2017-18 school year, so Principals will have time to adapt. If anything happens, MASSP will provide members with a full and detailed update once the legislation is law, including practical advice for dealing with any changes the bills create.
December 15 is expected to be the last day of legislative session for the year (yay!), but that's still a week away (boo!). As we have already seen, anything can and will happen during lame duck, but the signs are positive that the biggest and most damaging issues that could have happened are going to be kept under wraps for the year. Let's hope it stays that way.