Lame Duck Watchlist
Week one of lame duck is in the books and while MPSERS is certainly foremost in many people's minds, there are plenty of other issues at stake as the legislature wraps up its 2015-2016 session. An income tax proposal has surfaced that could end up costing schools hundreds of millions of dollars; seclusion/restraint legislation is still out there; zero tolerance reform is also a possibility. Lets walk down the list of what's happening so far this lame duck session.
Income Tax Shift
The Issue: Currently, the School Aid Fund gets 23.8% of GROSS income tax revenue (i.e. the amount taken in before credits and refunds are applied). By taking its share of revenue as a percentage of gross collections, the School Aid Fund is insulated from the impact of tax policies that create new tax credits or increase refunds. The proposal currently being debated would shift the School Aid Fund to collecting 23.8% of NET income tax revenue. In addition to making the School Aid Fund susceptible to every shift in income tax policy, the shift would have the immediate impact of taking $430 million out of the School Aid Fund.
The Politics: This policy was debated in the House of Representatives this past week, though without any movement. Legislators are being told that this shift is technical and would simply clean up the books and that the School Aid Fund will be taken care of and held harmless. Even if the legislature replaces any lost revenue today, this shift would take away a stable and protected revenue stream from the School Aid Fund. MASSP is working with other education groups to oppose this effort and protect the School Aid Fund.
Citizenship Test Graduation Requirement
The Issue: HB 4136 would prevent students from completing their state mandated civics requirement unless they pass a test comprised of questions identical to some or all of the questions on the civics portion of the test given to aspiring US citizens. Since students have to pass civics in order to graduate, this bill would create a de facto graduation test. There are any number of logistical hurdles this would impose on schools in addition to effectively establishing dictating curriculum.
The Politics: The bill, which passed the House earlier this year, has been sitting for months in the Senate Education Committee without action. This week, the committee scheduled a hearing, but no vote, on the legislation. MASSP testified in opposition to the bill along with MASA and MASB. We are working to keep this legislation in committee, or to amend the bill enough to eliminate any new testing requirements, prevent the creation of a graduation exam, and stop any new reporting requirements.
Seclusion and Restraint
The Issue: This large package of legislation would amend Michigan's School Code to effectively overhauling 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, raises all sorts of concerns, the bills have been heavily amended from their original form to address concerns raised by the school community.
The Politics: This past week, the House GOP caucused on this legislation. While caucus discussions are held behind closed doors and legislators are traditionally tight-lipped about what happens in these meetings, we do know that prior to the meeting the bills had been listed on the House floor agenda for a vote. Afterward, the bills were removed. This is a possible sign of setback for the bills' primary champion, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley.
The Issue: Proposed legislation that would effectively eliminate Michigan's zero tolerance suspension and expulsion requirements has managed to lose the support of school groups as it has moved through the legislative process. As currently written, the bills would subject every suspension and expulsion to potential judicial review and put schools in an untenable position.
The Politics: The changes in the bill have been made at the behest of the ACLU and the Michigan Probate Judges Association. Both groups seek to significantly reduce the number of suspension and expulsions in Michigan, something these additional barriers would doubtless accomplish, though not without significant collateral damage. The bills have already passed the House and are now on the Senate floor, but have not moved so far and the school community has been actively working to keep it that way or to amend the bills to eliminate the problems they would cause in their current form.
It's lame duck. Anything could happen. That said, the clock is ticking and legislators are currently set to adjourn on December 15. Anything that doesn't make it across the finish line before then will have to start all over again next session.