Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Keep the Pressure on Legislators!

It's a fast changing universe with lame duck session. Two groups that are following the details: Michigan Parents for Schools and the Tri-County Alliance for Education. Here is the latest update from MIPFS.

Final hours of lame duck - your voice needed now!
Dear Ruth,
The lame duck session of the legislature is drawing to a close, and two important measures that would hurt our local schools are still under intense discussion. We've reached the point where we need you to call your legislators personally.

The first measure, as you know, is funding for roads: while the state Senate opted to simply raise money directly with the gas tax, the House was afraid of raising any taxes and chose to take road funds from money that normally goes to schools as well as cities and towns. They have been negotiating over this for many days now, and as the deadline nears, the pressure to do something - anything - will grow.

Whatever solution they find must not remove funding from schools, period. Simply leave our kids out of it.

The second measure is the school district "deficit early warning" package, or, as we like to call it, the "Defund 'Em + Take 'Em Over" package. These bills do nothing to help local schools in financial trouble but do greatly expand the power of the stateTreasury Department to take over districts with budget problems. While the state bleeds funding from our schools, these bills would require districts to dedicate staff to write a whole slew of new reports to describe how they are in financial trouble. Bill sponsors weren't interested in the concerns of parents or school officials and pushed their punitive bills through the Senate. They may come up for a vote in the House today.

We really need you to call TODAY. Ask your lawmakers to:
  • Fix the roads, but leave our kids and schools out of it. (HB 4539, 5477, 5493)
  • Oppose the "Defund 'Em + Take 'Em Over" package (SB 951-954, 957)

Please CALL
Rep. Adam Zemke - (517) 373-1792
Sen. Rebekah Warren - (517) 373-2406
Thank you for your efforts to protect our local schools!
Steve Norton
Michigan Parents for Schools

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Legislative Whack-a-Mole: Lame Duck Session Activities

I am reposting this alert from Michigan Parents for Schools, written by Steve Norton, which sums up all the problems with this lame duck session and suggests some action.

Let's play "Legislative Whack-A-Mole™"!

We're in the legislative "lame duck" session, so that means it must be time to push a lot of bad ideas into law while Michigan voters are getting ready for the holidays. And we have a great assortment of bad ideas this year:

Bad Idea #1 - Let's pave the roads with our children's education:
Everyone agrees that our roads need help. The MI Senate passed a straight-up increase in the gas tax to pay for it. But in their continuing effort to duck responsibility for, well, anything, the state House leadership breathed new life into a discredited plan to pay for better roads with - you guessed it - money from schools. To the tune of $700 million per year - $500 per student. And then "We the People" would have to vote on a referendum to raise taxes just to keep the school funding we already have. Sweet!

This is utter nonsense and displays not courage but the exact opposite. Read news coverage here and here and then use our advocacy system to let your Representative know what you think of this plan (use this link:

Bad Idea #2 - Cut school funding and then take 'em over when they have budget problems:The "deficit early warning" bill package sailed through the Senate and now has to gain the approval of the House. It has not improved with age. Here is our write-up on the bills; please use our action alert here to contact the Governor and House members -

Bad Idea #3 - Cut school funding and then force them to flunk 3rd graders who don't test well in reading: We do need to make sure that every child can read well, and as early as possible. But that's not always easy, and helping kids who struggle with reading can't be done on the cheap. Simply branding kids (and schools) as failures by flunking them after 3rd grade won't make the challenges go away. Even Florida, supposedly a success story for this flunking idea, only made real improvements by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in early reading intervention programs. The Michigan version? Not a dime.

Read our issue brief here, and then speak out on this proposal to your State Representative with this link:!

Bad Idea #4 - Cut school funding, and then slap a simplistic letter grade on them to show how badly they're doing: In Lansing and in Washington, there is a fetish about judging schools on the basis of a handful of test scores. This proposal would make things worse by using narrow test scores to "grade" schools - on a curve, no less. Does a grade of "C" make you think "pretty decent, middle of the pack'? Me neither. And how about that big red "F" (they really want to be able to Fail schools) - does that make you think "schools struggling with a history of poverty, discrimination and instability"? Not exactly. But this bill would make sure that schools with the lowest test scores always got an F. 

Trying to sum up a school's performance in one letter grade, based on scores from tests we haven't even picked yet, is not a solution. It's just shifting the blame, and rewarding schools that care about nothing but test scores.Read our issue brief here, and then speak out on this proposal to your State Representative by using this link:!

(You may have noticed a common theme: cut school funding, and then make a fuss about how public schools can't "do their jobs." Like a good magician, make sure your audience is only looking at what you want them to see.)

What can you do? Pick the ones that disgust you the most and make your voice heard. If you're like me, that will be all of these bad ideas. The folks behind these bills are hoping no one is watching; they are hoping to keep us looking in the wrong direction. Let's show them that we see through their magic tricks. Take action today!

Steve Norton
MI Parents for Schools

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Jazzing Up the Singapore Delegation's Visit. Also, Cool Libraries.

Two weeks ago on Wednesday night there was a reception before the school board meeting for the delegation from Singapore. (You may recall that Ann Arbor sent a delegation to Singapore over the summer. Jenna Bacolor reported on it in her Rec & Ed blog.) You might also recall that I did a blog exchange with a blogger from Singapore. Read her post on my blog here.

The delegation from Singapore. There is another person hiding behind
the person on the far left. Photo by Ruth Kraut.

To be perfectly honest, what brought me to the pre-school board meeting was not the prospect of seeing the Singapore delegation in action, or the prospect of hours of listening to people talking, but rather, the fact that the Community High Jazz Band (at least, one of its combos) was performing for the Singapore delegation reception. As it happens, this is the combo that I am most interested in, because my son is the drummer. And also--drum sets do not transport themselves. (To be fair, my husband was there too and drove there.)

All of the photos are by me.
I know, they are not necessarily the best!
It probably would help
if I didn't move the iphone while pressing the camera button.
Left to right: Lucas Atkin-Smith, Lydia Kreinke, Liam Knight, Jonathan Lynn,
Raven Eaddy. Photo by Ruth Kraut

Left to right: Lucas Atkin-Smith, Jonathan Lynn, Raven Eaddy, Joel Appel-Kraut

Check out the wonderful drummer! Photo by Ruth Kraut.

Also, the CHS Jazz Band teacher, Jack Wagner, was there with his two children--who were happily dancing to the jazz music. I danced with them a bit as well. They told me that they do, in fact, listen to (and like) lots of other music. One of their favorites? Lady Gaga.

On the way out--of course I stopped to check out some books.
And then I noticed that you can also check out telescopes at the Ann Arbor library!
How cool is that? Possibly even cooler than the puppets that
you can check out at the Northfield Township library. Photo by Ruth Kraut