The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

Michigan Education Digest

DPS legal problems, millage for closed district

The latest issue of Michigan Education Digest is now available online. Topics include overspending crises, student count day and the emergency manager law.

Members of the political class here and elsewhere have a reputation for always taking care of their own. Chasers of public office may wax eloquent about their selfless “public service,” but the truth is that no one checks their self-interest at the doors of the Capitol.

Elected officials maximize their own interests in a number of ways: pay, prestige, perquisites and more. Under term limits, perhaps the highest priority of the political careerists who populate the Legislature is paving the way for their next elected or appointed job when they are termed-out of their current one. Toward this end, they are often willing to demonstrate loyalty to the system by glorifying it along with their current and former colleagues.

For example, House Bill 5843 would create a “Legislative Funeral Act” to require the state of Michigan (that is, taxpayers) give a state flag to the survivor of current or former state legislators who die.

Michigan state lawmakers are already some of the best paid in America and can easily buy their own flag. That’s not the real point of the bill, however. Rather, it is to puff up the importance of the statewide political elite to which they currently belong, in pursuit of remaining a member even after they are termed-out of their current slot.

The bad news with this bill is that it actually has 61 sponsors. The good news is that while it is modeled on a similar measure introduced in 2009, unlike that proposal this one does not require that taxpayers pay for a State Police escort for the funeral processions of current and former legislators. Both bills featured a large number of co-sponsors from both parties. (One of the earlier bill’s freshman co-sponsors publicly apologized for his rookie error in political judgment.)

The “Legislative Funeral Act” measures are hardly the only bills introduced by Lansing politicians to immortalize their own. Former state lawmakers Dominic Jacobetti and Harry Gast have stretches of roads named after them. Former Sen. Glen Steil Sr. (father of former Rep. Glen Steil Jr.) has a law named for him, and the name of a former higher education appropriations chairman, the late Rep. Morris Hood Jr., decorates an education-related program.

In 2012, state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer offered an amendment to Senate Bill 534 which would rename the proposed law the “John J. Gleason gift of life plate” after the very politician who introduced the law in the first place. The amendment and law were both adopted.

The attempts to glorify a current or recent legislator don’t always fly, such as one state senator’s amendment to name a property-rights infringing business and restaurant smoking ban after a current colleague, Sen. Ray Basham, which failed by voice vote. Nor does it matter that most Michigan residents will never recognize the former politician names attached to roads, buildings, programs, laws, etc. As mentioned, these measures are about serving a state and local political system to which these political careerists are desperate to remain attached, and have little to do with the general public.

The dignity of that system — such as it is — may need some institutional guardrails against the self-serving excesses of its members. At the very least a politician should have to be dead before former colleagues start naming things after him or her. Preferably for a good long time, like say 50 years. Only with the fullness of time can the people and elected officials acquire some needed perspective on the real value of a particular politician’s contributions. 

Center Adds Two New Scholars to Board

One from Hillsdale, one from MSU

The Mackinac Center welcomes two new academics with strong Michigan ties to its Board of Scholars. Members of this board write for the Center, review its publications, and provide other consultation and guidance. The two new scholars are Michael J. Clark of Hillsdale College and Ross B. Emmett of Michigan State University's James Madison College.

Dr. Clark received his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University in 2011. He is currently an assistant professor in economics, and due to his high teaching evaluations, the current Wallace and Marion Reemelin chair in free market economics at Hillsdale.

Dr. Emmett is a professor of political economy and theory and constitutional democracy. A historian of economic thought, his work is concerned with the constitutional political economy of a free society and the enhancement of the bourgeois virtues that support it. He is currently writing a biography of the University of Chicago economist Frank H. Knight.

Teacher 'Effectiveness' Ratings Gutted

Legislators turn their backs on students

Last spring, the Michigan House passed a bill to gut a 2011 reform establishing a rigorous, empirical teacher rating system based on how students in an educator’s classroom actually perform on state tests. Related 2011 reforms raised the stakes by basing teacher “tenure” and other school employment decisions on these ratings.

Specifically, the House-passed 2014 gut-job reduced actual student results on state tests to just 20 percent of a teacher’s rating, with the remainder based on local measurements whose “rigor may vary” according to the MichiganVotes.org description. The Senate went even further, essentially repealing the standards and punting to a system to be determined later. The House concurred with this approach and the repeal was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder last June. 

The change represents a policy victory for politically powerful teacher unions who want to insulate their members from real accountability. The likely impact was explained in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by former New York state Superintendent of Schools Marc F. Bernstein describing the perverse outcomes of that state’s bogus teacher rating system, the key feature of which is remarkably similar to the system approved by the Michigan House earlier this year. He writes:

“According to the New York State Education Department, state law requires that 60% of a teacher's rating be based on classroom observations and other measures agreed upon at the local level through collective bargaining with the union. Another 20% is based on student performance on grades 4-8 statewide math and reading tests or ‘locally determined student learning objectives.’ The remaining 20% is again based on ‘locally determined’ objective measures as bargained between school management and teachers unions.”

Mr. Bernstein also explains why “local” measures of teacher quality are almost guaranteed to be highly compromised:

“School culture strongly frowns upon administrators rating teachers as less than satisfactory. Most elementary schools have fewer than three- or four-dozen teachers; they constitute a family with members supporting one another regardless of deficiencies. Fellow teachers are well aware when colleagues have personal issues that might diminish their effectiveness, and they expect administrators to compensate by being generous in their evaluations...Moreover, how can administrators explain to parents that their children have teachers rated ineffective but who remain in the classroom?”

And the former New York state schools chief reports that he wasn’t surprised by the perverse outcome this generated:

“New York recently released evaluations that rank 95% of the state's teachers as "highly effective" or "effective," 4% as "developing," and only 1% as "ineffective" for the 2012-13 school year. Never mind that more than half of the state's students in grades 4-8 weren't proficient in reading and math, according to statewide test scores.”

Disappointingly, many of the Michigan House and Senate members who voted this year to gut rigorous teacher rating standards are the same people who enacted them in 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You can see exactly how each legislator voted in the links below.

2014 Senate Bill 817 - Repeal teacher rating criteria
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the Senate
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the House

2014 House Bill 5223 - Substitute "local" measures of student gains for state tests
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the House (The Senate did not take up this bill.) 

2011 House Bill 4627 - 2011 teacher rating system real reform
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the House
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the Senate

(VoteSpotter, the Mackinac Center’s new app, lets you track votes like these and give instant feedback to your legislators about how they voted.)

Bureaucracy in Iambic Pentameter?

Bill introduced for "official" state poem

Mackinac Center scholars have long lamented the long-reach of government in matters great and small. Now comes another intrusion in the latter category, and this one rhymes: Legislation proposing an “Official State Poem” of Michigan.

From a description of the bill on MichiganVotes.org:

Introduced on September 17, 2014, a bill to establish that henceforth, as a matter of law, the poem “Hand of Michigan” by Millie Miller, and no other poem, shall be the official poem of the state of Michigan. Michigan does not currently have a state poem; a previous bill proposed "Land of the Wolverine" by E. J. McGuire.

Apparently, Michigan’s other problems all have been solved, because how else could our generously compensated full-time lawmakers have time to impose their Solomon-like wisdom on such profound questions?

As MichiganVotes notes, however, our political solons may lack consensus over which poem should represent us, as happened in selecting the official Scottish Tartan of Michigan, Talk like a Pirate resolution and other items.

The verse currently under consideration reads as follows:

God knitted a mitten of wood, rock and lime,

Made a foundation to last through all time.

He planted his palm with Hemlock and Pine,

Then blessed it with rain and sunshine.

In all the world there’s no other land

That God himself patterned from his own hand!

Michigan.

Lovely words, but on what grounds do politicians claim expertise as the great deciders of what constitutes a worthy poem? Instead, Michigan’s people might consider reclaiming their identity as independent and individualistic souls by spurning poetic mandates imposed by term-limited political careerists with strong incentives to seek attention-getting fluff.

 

September 26, 2014, MichiganVotes Weekly Report

Pensions, hunting drones, automatic pay hikes & more

Senate Bill 730, Mandate restaurant manager food allergy training: Passed 31 to 7 in the Senate

To mandate that restaurants must post a window sticker or notice on the menu that customers have an obligation to inform the server about any food allergies. The bill would also mandate that restaurants employ at least one manager who has received training or viewed an approved video on food allergies (in addition to current requirements for one manager to have a food safety certification).

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5405, Heroin overdose treatment immunity: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To grant immunity from criminal prosecution or administrative sanction to a medical professional or pharmacist who prescribes, dispenses, possesses, or administers an “opioid antagonist” (such as Naloxone) to someone the person believes in good faith to be suffering a heroin or opioid related overdose. Senate Bill 857 grants lawsuit immunity to a layperson who does this, and also passed unanimously.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 1011, Facilitate mentally ill prisoner staying on Medicaid: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To require the state to suspend but not terminate Medicaid eligibility for an individual with a “serious emotional disturbance” or mental illness if the person is in jail, prison, a state mental health inpatient program or a “youth correctional center.” This would permit the individual to start getting Medicaid benefits again immediately after release.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 998, Establish rape evidence regulations and procedures; Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To create a government commission to establish regulations, procedures and timetables with deadlines that law enforcement agencies and health care providers must follow when collecting and using sexual assault kit evidence.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 926, Ban using a drone to interfere with hunters: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To prohibit using an aerial drone to interfere with or harass a person who is hunting. This would expand an existing law that bans interfering with or harassing hunters. Senate Bill 927 bans using drones to hunt, and also passed unanimously.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5669, Revise private school teacher “professional development” detail: Passed 109 to 0 in the House

To permit a “state-approved nonpublic school” to provide teacher “professional development” for nonpublic school teachers, and credit this toward the issuance or renewal of a teaching certificate or a subject area “endorsement,” to the same extent as when this is provided for teachers in public schools.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 922, Authorize more local “pension obligation bonds”: Passed 107 to 1 in the House

To extend for one year the sunset on 2012 law that allowed local governments to borrow money to cover unfunded employee pension liabilities, but only if they have closed their traditional “defined benefit” pension system to new employees.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5097, Exempt public safety employees from ban on certain automatic pay hikes: Passed 97 to 12 in the House

To exempt law enforcement and fire department employees from a 2011 law that banned automatic seniority-based pay hikes for individual government employees (“step increases”) when a union contract has expired and no new one signed.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

Nathan Lehman, who worked as a labor policy intern at the Center this summer, and F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director, write in a Detroit News op-ed today that a recent UAW dues hike was unnecessary and members could exercise their freedoms under right-to-work because of the union’s political agenda.

Michigan Education Digest

School choice, DPS debt, teacher pensions

The latest version of Michigan Education Digest is now available. Items include anti-school choice legislation, teacher pensions and school district consolidation.

MEA Can't Keep Story Straight on Union Bullying

VP apparently didn't read president's press release

WILX-TV10 in Lansing is reporting on proposed legislation that would prevent unions from bullying members who choose to opt out. Michigan Capitol Confidential reported that the Operating Engineers Local 324 printed in its newsletter the names of 19 former members who left under Michigan’s right-to-work law, calling them “freeloaders.” Now, more than 500 members have opted out of the union.

Nancy Strachan, vice president of the Michigan Education Association, told WILX that her union “stays away from” calling former members freeloaders, saying it is “a term that’s probably been picked up from others within the education community …”

Strachan apparently forgot to tell her boss, MEA President Steve Cook, who used the term no fewer than eight times in this official Michigan Education Association press release.

Mackinac Center spokesman Ted O’Neil told WILX: “Now that employees are not forced to financially support a union as a condition of employment, unions will have to realize that they need to convince members of their value, rather than attacking and bullying those who simply choose to exercise their rights under Michigan law.”

Reason.com has weighed in on the matter.

Right-to-Work Will be Blamed

If Gov. Snyder loses re-election

With a good deal of validity it has been said that history is written by the victors. Keeping that in mind, it follows that if Gov. Rick Snyder loses the 2014 Michigan gubernatorial election, the defeat almost surely will be attributed to his support and enactment of right-to-work.

Blaming a Gov. Snyder loss on right-to-work would, of course, be totally inaccurate. But anyone who thinks questions of accuracy prevent the proliferation of nonsense hasn’t paid attention to how the national mainstream news media operates.

Gov. Snyder asked the Legislature to pass right-to-work in late 2012; it did so and he signed it into law. This occurred in reaction to a failed attempt by a coalition of large unions to put language in the state constitution that would have permanently stacked the deck in labor’s favor at the bargaining table.

Right-to-work, which prohibits workers from being required to financially support a union as a condition of employment, is virtually a nonissue in this year’s election. More Michigan voters support right-to-work than oppose it and most voters who hold a grudge against Gov. Snyder over the issue were never likely to support him in the first place.

Nonetheless, should Gov. Snyder falter in his bid for re-election, the legacy of his failure to win is likely — in the long run — to be reduced to an erroneous but simplistic truism. This truism, which will be repeated with growing certitude, will be that after Gov. Snyder right-to-work in a state with a long tradition of unionism the voters threw him out of office.

Count on it; probably sooner rather than later, this will be the message presented as straight-forward cause and effect. It is precisely the sort of snapshot explanation the image-worshipping national mainstream news media loves to peddle — a portrayal too alluring for it to resist.

In reality, if Gov. Snyder loses it will probably be due to a combination of causes, none having anything to do with right-to-work. Two of these causes would be general in nature, while three pertain to specific segments of voters.

* Causes of a general nature would be: first — at the national level — the Republicans have missed the opportunity to seize the mantle of reform that, in a nonpresidential year, could have bolstered GOP turnout across the country; and second — at the state level — if it turns out that too few of the voters outside of the business community sense the effects of the current economic uptick. 

* Causes of a more specific nature would be the result of seeds of dissatisfaction sewn within voting groups from which Gov. Snyder might otherwise have expected support. Many senior citizens believe, correctly or incorrectly, that he raised their taxes without giving them a break in return; social conservatives distrust his implied flirtation with policies some consider as gateways to recognition of gay marriage; and economic conservatives see many of his policies (especially Medicaid expansion and his efforts to double the fuel tax) as being too government-centric.

All of these reasons, and perhaps a few others, will surely be mentioned by the mainstream news media in its postelection analysis if Gov. Snyder is defeated. Undoubtedly, at the state level, the news media will continue for a certain period of time to cite these, rightly, as the causes of his defeat. Those nearest to any event almost always tend to recall more factual details for a longer duration than those at a distance.

But fairly quickly at the national level and then eventually even at the state level as well, the real factors behind a Gov. Snyder loss will fade into the mist and be replaced by the untrue, yet shallow and easy (therefore preferred) narrative that right-to-work is what doomed him.

Truth morphing into symbolic fiction is not a process limited to politics. Tellers of tales twist storylines to their liking regardless of the overall category. However, it is in the arena of politics that baseless truisms have perhaps the greatest capacity to become enshrined as lessons.

To the conservative base, if Gov. Snyder were to lose it will be because he ignored basic principles. To seasoned citizens, if Snyder were to lose it would be because they think he hiked their taxes. Yet, for the national mainstream news media, though these elements will have contributed to his loss, they will be considered trivialities not worth mentioning.

One can almost hear the epitaph already: “He turned the birth place of unionism into a right-to-work state and paid the price for doing so.”

(Editor’s note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential and a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not necessarily represent the views of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy of Michigan Capitol Confidential.)