While you were sleeping: GOP-led House narrowly passes watered-down A-F school grading bill

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After scrambling for votes all day, Republicans won a new A-F letter grade bill for public schools, but jettisoned a new education oversight commission that would have weakened Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer’s power.

The GOP-led House approved House Bill 5526, sponsored by Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Twp.), on a mostly party-line 56-53 vote just after 3 a.m. this morning. That was the bare minimum number of votes required for passage.

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

It was one of the more dramatic parts of a marathon, 18-hour House session as the chamber rushed to take up legislation during the last days of the Lame Duck session before the end of the year.

The vote came after the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Michigan and the Michigan Education Association (MEA), which represent public school educators throughout the state, protested at the state Capitol Wednesday evening.

Kelly, chair of the Michigan House Education Reform Committee, blamed “the left” for creating controversy about the bill.

“Aside from the hyperbole and hysteria on the left, I think that this is a good thing for Michigan,” Kelly said. “I think it’ll help not only parents, but it will also help schools identify their weaknesses and try and focus on bringing those areas of weakness up.”

Tim Kelly

However, seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting “no” on HB 5526: Reps. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy), Dave Maturen (R-Vicksburg), John Reilly (R-Oakland), Gary Glenn (R-Williams Twp.), Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron), Gary Howell (R-Lapeer) and Steve Johnson (R-Wayland).

The legislation now heads to the Senate.  

Here’s the gist of the revised version of HB 5526: State government would give each public school A-F letter grades for student performance in some areas. However, a cumulative grade would not be given, although it was part of the original legislation.

Schools would be graded in five separate areas: English and math proficiency on a state test, growth in English and math scores, growth among English language learners, high school graduation rates and academic performance compared to similar schools.

A major difference from the original bill and the House-passed version is that a commission that would have usurped some authority from the elected state Board of Education was scrapped. Under Kelly’s original plan, a majority of commission members would have been appointed by term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Snyder. The state Board of Education would have had no oversight.

The panel also would not have been accountable to the next governor — and Whitmer notably is a Democrat — or to the state Department of Education she will oversee.  

Gretchen Whitmer

However, that plan couldn’t muster enough votes to pass. Under the House-passed version, the Department of Education would create the school grading system and submit it to a temporary “peer review panel.” House Republicans said the panel would include three appointees from Whitmer and two from legislative leaders.

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), a former school teacher, told the Advance why she voted “no” this morning.

“It’s shameful that this legislation, which will do nothing to drive academic achievement or student proficiency, was passed as simply a tactic to circumvent the newly elected Democratic state board of education,” Gay-Dagnogo said. “These tactics highlight the impact of term limits, and lack of institutional memory which makes it easy for each Legislature to advance such patchwork policies driven by the [Betsy] DeVos agenda. Michigan children and teachers deserve so much more!”

Sherry Gay-Dagnogo

Many school superintendents gave it a thumbs down, too. The Tri-County Alliance for Public Education sent out a news release titled, “Legislators literally just failed their own schools.”  

“Educators, school boards, parents and business leaders from across Michigan have spoken out against this poorly thought out legislation because it does nothing to help schools or our students,” Russell Pickell, superintendent of Riverview Schools in Wayne County, said in the statement. “… In a Lame Duck session unfortunately characterized by a hyper-partisan agenda, it seems that even our schools and our students aren’t safe from politics being put ahead of good policy in the middle of the night.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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