6 Michigan education proposals that lawmakers punted to the fall

A view of the Michigan state capitol in Lansing.

New state laws will provide more funding to public schools, require students to take financial literacy courses to graduate, and allow retirees to return to work in public schools while collecting full pensions.

Those are the biggest education policy changes the Michigan Legislature made in the first half of 2022.

But lawmakers left a lot on the table when they departed Lansing for their summer break.

Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature, began the year with an ambitious education agenda but were unable to send several impactful proposals through to the governor. Some of those measures — such as providing stipends to student teachers and increasing support for students with dyslexia — have widespread support. Others are more politically charged, partisan efforts: for example, measures that would ban transgender athletes from girls’ sports, restrict how students are taught about race, and threaten funding to districts that require masks and vaccines.

 “It’s open season on the various culture-war education issues to be brought up in the fall,” said Matt Grossman, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.

Those issues will be competing for attention from lawmakers along with the pressures of campaign season and efforts to regulate abortion in Michigan after the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Lawmakers are campaigning hard after redistricting made races more competitive, putting Republicans in jeopardy of losing control of the Legislature. That could leave less time for lawmaking before Dec. 31, the end of the legislative session.

“Even people in safe districts are going to be spending a lot of time in the district because they all have new voters,” Grossman said.

Still, education policy will be a priority when lawmakers return in September, especially as schools struggle to ease the effects of learning losses during the pandemic, said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican from Clarklake.

Here are some of the measures pending in the Legislature.

Teacher reciprocity

A bill introduced in the Senate would allow experienced teachers from other states to teach in Michigan without taking the state’s licensure exam.

Proponents expected a hearing in the Senate last month, but the Education and Career Readiness Committee paused its weekly meetings as lawmakers turned their attention to school aid budget negotiations.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan, wants to reduce barriers to full certification. That’s important as the state works to mitigate a worsening teacher shortage. But teachers union officials worry about watering down certification standards for teachers.

Teaching about racism

A deeply divided House passed a bill restricting lessons about race and prohibiting educators from teaching that “individuals bear collective guilt for historical wrongs committed by their race or gender.”

Knowing they were outnumbered by Republican supporters of the bill, Democrats refused to vote.

Theis has not brought the bill to a vote in her committee. She has her own bill that more strictly bans the teaching of critical race theory, a framework mostly used in higher education that explores the lingering effects of slavery and centuries of racism. It also prohibits “anti-American” ideas about race, or material from the 1619 Project, a New York Times project and curriculum that ties the growth of the United States to slavery and oppression of Black Americans. Schools that violate the prohibition would lose 5% of their state funding.

The bill passed out of committee in June but has not made it to a vote of the full Senate.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has not taken a public position on the legislation but is likely to veto it if it reaches her desk. 

Computer programming as a world language credit

A bill to allow computer programming courses to replace language requirements for graduation passed the House in May, with most Republicans voting in favor and most Democrats opposing. Now it’s teed up for a vote in the Senate.

The bill has the backing of business leaders who say the change would give students the flexibility to explore a skill relevant to future jobs.

The Michigan Language Association opposes the bill, saying that computer coding is a valuable skill but learning it shouldn’t come at the expense of learning a world language.

Changes to SAT requirement

A pair of bills de-emphasizing the SAT sailed through the Michigan House in March but have not been brought to the floor in the Senate.

One bill would eliminate the essay portion of the standardized test given to high school juniors. The other would end a requirement for schools to include SAT scores on transcripts sent to colleges. Proponents say the multiple-choice “writing and language” portion of the SAT sufficiently addresses writing ability.

States across the country are moving away from the SAT as fewer colleges  are considering standardized test scores in their admission decisions.  

Help for students with dyslexia

The Senate passed a package of bills requiring schools to screen children for dyslexia and provide extra reading instruction to those who struggle to an unusual degree with tasks such as sounding out written words.

The bills are still awaiting action by the House Education Committee. Chair Pamela Hornberger, a Republican from Chesterfield Township, did not respond to questions about when she might call up the bill. The dyslexia bills are sponsored by Sen. Jeff Irwin, an Ann Arbor Democrat, but they have widespread bipartisan support.

Transgender athletes

Republicans have been working on two fronts to restrict transgender athletes’ access to school sports.

Most recently, they inserted language into the House-passed school aid budget that would have required schools to prohibit what the measure refers to as “boys” from participating in girls’ or women’s scholastic athletics. The provision did not make it into the final budget that was negotiated with the governor’s office and passed by both legislative chambers.

Theis introduced a similar bill as standalone legislation in the Senate 16 months ago but it has gained no traction. The bill was referred to the Senate education committee, but Theis has not brought it up for discussion.

Democrats say the proposals are cruel, discriminatory, and harmful to districts’ most vulnerable students.

Republicans say it’s an issue of fairness: They say cisgender females should not have to compete against transgender girls who they say have biological advantages.

Whitmer, who favors strengthening protections for transgender people, is unlikely to sign the bill if it reaches her desk.

Tracie Mauriello covers state education issues for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Reach her at tmauriello@chalkbeat.org.


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