Commentary & Community

Virginia Senate Bill 1359: Mandate lead testing in schools


Check out this key bill passed by elected officials in Virginia, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Senate Bill 1359, Mandate lead testing in schools: Passed 99 to 1 in the state House on February 23, 2017


To require school districts develop a plan to test school drinking water for lead, starting in schools built before 1986. If necessary, schools must find a way to remediate water found to have high lead levels.


Comment below to share what you think of Virginia Senate Bill 1359!


Iowa Senate Bill 166: Increase State Funding for Schools by 1.1 Percent


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Iowa, and check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted.


Senate Bill 166, Increase state funding for schools by 1.1 percent: Passed the state Senate 28 to 21 on February 2, 2017 and 55 to 40 in the state House on February 6, 2017


To increase the state funding of public schools by 1.1 percent for the next year. Also, the bill removes a requirement that the legislature fix the amount of state aid two years in advance.


Ohio House Bill 89: Use Medicaid Funding for Individualized Education Programs


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Ohio, and go to to signup and see how your legislators voted.


House Bill 89, Use Medicaid funding for individualized education programs: Passed 31 to 1 in the state Senate on December 7, 2016


To classify service providers in school individualized education programs as "a licensed practitioner of the healing arts" in order to get federal reimbursement for student educational assistance.


Homeschooling Legislation Advancing in the States


Once strictly regulated or even banned in most states, homeschooling now encompasses 3% of the U.S. student population. Individual states have authority over the laws and rules governing homeschooling. That means that every year during state legislative sessions, there are efforts to change these laws in ways both big and small.


Here are some of the bills being considered this year that could affect homeschooling:


“Tebow Bill”: Tim Tebow was a top player in the NFL who was allowed to play football at a public high school while he was being homeschooled. Tebow grew up in Florida, but not all states allow homeschoolers to play sports or participate in other school activities with public school students. This year legislators in Virginia, West Virginia, and Texas are considering bills that would allow them to do this. Virginia legislators passed a similar bill last year, but Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed it.


Registration with local districts: In 2013, Iowa ended the requirement that homeschooling parents register with their local school districts. But In 2016, two homeschooled students within the state suffered abuse and died at the hands of their parents. Some Iowa legislators are now pushing to require parents who homeschool to once again register with the government, and for local school districts to make home visits every four months.


Shift rule-making authority: In New Hampshire, a homeschooling legislator plans to introduce legislation that would remove the authority of the state board of education to set rules about homeschooling. Instead, this authority would move to the state legislature.


Constitutional protection: Homeschooling is legal in Texas, but one state legislator wants to ensure that it has a higher level of protection. Rep. Mark Keough has introduced a measure that would add parents’ right to homeschool their children to the state constitution.


What do you think about homeschooling? Should parents have significant freedom to teach their children at home? Or should the state have regulations in place to govern how students are taught at home?


Nothing Closer to Eternal Than a Failed Michigan Public School?

State education officials have been unable or unwilling to say whether they have ever used their power to close a Michigan public school that has persistently failed academically. (Some low-performance school districts have been closed by the state because they became fiscally unviable.)


Whether that will change is uncertain. A few weeks ago, an official with a state School Reform Office told an education news website that with a few exceptions, schools that rank in the state’s bottom 5 percent on academic performance will be closed after the current year.


But apparently that was news to officials in the state Department of Education, who said no closings were planned.


Which brings us to the release this week of the latest update to the worst-performing schools report,  essentially the lowest 5 percent of school on what the state calls its “Top to Bottom” list. The bottom 5 percent includes 116 schools, of which 58 are in Detroit.


This list of so-called “priority schools”comes from the same School Reform Office from which the earlier “bad schools will be closed” report originated. The press release accompanying the updated rankings says nothing about closing schools, with instead just a vague reference to “a next level of accountability.”


However, an aide to Gov. Rick Snyder told the Detroit Free Press that no Detroit schools on the worst schools list – precisely half of the total  – will be closed for at least three years, based on some legal interpretations of a Detroit school bailout bill Snyder championed and recently signed.


One school reformer is skeptical. Gary Nayaert of the Great Lakes Education Project told the Detroit News, “Legal opinions are not hard to come by, not hard to purchase…I would encourage the governor to seek a second legal opinion.”


The National Assessment of Educational Progress has named Detroit’s as the nation’s worst performing urban school district in each of the four biannual rankings released since 2009.


Snyder has been under stress since the Flint water contamination debacle hit the news almost a year ago. At the end of 2016 the term-limited Republican will have two years left before a new governor takes office on Jan. 1, 2019.

State Fails to Deposit Required Amount in School Pension System

The state of Michigan has accumulated huge unfunded liabilities in the government employee retirement systems it runs due to failing to deposit the required amounts into pension funds. The system for public school employees is the largest and currently has a $26.5 billion unfunded liability. Taxpayers are on the hook for this debt to the tune of more than $2,600 for every man, woman, and child in the state.

So it is significant that for the sixth year in a row state officials once again failed to adequately fund the system. According to an article in Michigan Capitol Confidential, the state’s own actuaries calculated that it should deposit $2.18 billion into the school employee system this year. The deposit covers the additional pension benefits accrued by individual employees for the year, plus some extra to cover catching up on past underfunding.

However, the state only contributed $1.97 billion, shorting its “Annual Required Contribution” by $210 million.

Legislation has been introduced to contain the growing burden by no longer enrolling new school employees into the defined benefit pension system. Under the bills, new hires would instead get defined contribution, 401(k)-type benefits (see House Bill 5218 and Senate Bill 102).

No More 'Job for Life'

Some faculty at Wisconsin universities are upset that Ray Cross, president of the University of Wisconsin Systems, said that tenure was “not a guarantor of ‘a job for life.’” Do you think that tenure for college professors is necessary? Or should professors be treated more like employees in other professions?

Senators Mark Warner, Tim Kaine ask for LGBT guidelines for schools

Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have joined other Democratic senators in asking the federal government to enforce policies affecting gay and transgendered college students. This is partially in response to North Carolina’s law that mandates transgendered students use bathrooms according to their biological sex. Does the federal government have a place in policing school policies on bathroom use?

“Common Core” Curriculum Repeal Advances to Full Senate

The state Senate Education Committee has reported-out Senate Bill 826 to replace the “Common Core” curriculum in Michigan public schools with a model based on the one used by Massachusetts before Common Core was adopted there. Supporters say the Massachusetts curriculum is unique for having empirical evidence of effectiveness.

Common Core has been highly controversial in Michigan and elsewhere. It was adopted here by the state Board of Education, a move that was later grudgingly approved by the Legislature, which added conditions that the state’s statewide testing regime not be based on the model.
The legislation could be taken up by the full Senate at any time, at the discretion of the Senate Majority Leader.

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