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Michigan House passes A-to-F school grades but nixes new commission

Update: Michigan A-to-F school bill gets passing grade in Senate; on to Gov. Rick Snyder
Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

Schools will be graded A to F on five measures under a bill passed by the Michigan House of Representatives at 3 a.m. Thursday. But the compromise bill watered down an effort by the GOP to grab power over Michigan schools.

House Bill 5526 narrowly passed the House, 56-53, wrapping up a marathon burst of legislating that began Wednesday morning and stretched hours past midnight in Michigan’s frantic lame duck session.

The bill was unpopular among Democrats and some Republicans because of skepticism that giving schools grades would improve learning, and because the bill, up until the early hours this morning, created a powerful education commission that usurped broad authority over school accountability schools from the State Board of Education, the education department and incoming Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Because the majority of those commission members could be appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on his way out the door, the commission was seen by critics as a way to undercut control of Michigan schools from Democratic Gov.-elect Whitmer, and from the state board, which will become majority Democrat in January.

The bill that passed the House replaces the proposed powerful commission with a “peer review panel.” The Michigan Department of Education, instead of the appointed commission envisioned in the earlier version of the bill, will create the accountability system and submit the plan to the review panel, which will issue a report on MDE’s accountability plan back to MDE and to the Legislature.

The bill does not specify how, or even whether, MDE must respond to the panel’s report.  

The bill doesn’t completely remove politics and outgoing Republican’s ability to have some say over schools. The panel, though weakened, would be made up of political appointees just as the previously envisioned commission, with three positions filled by the governor, and one each by the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority leader.

If this version of the bill were to pass and be signed by Snyder, the panel could be filled with five Republican appointees; if Snyder didn’t fill the panel positions, leaving the job for the incoming Democratic governor, the panel would have a 3-2 Democratic-appointee majority.

Either way, the panel would not have the same level of power over Michigan schools as the commission envisioned in the original bill.

A second set of bills that created the same commission envisioned in House Bill 5526 already passed the House. Those bills, which create “public innovation districts” that don’t have to play by all the same rules as traditional schools and mandates a commission to oversee those schools, are now in the Senate, where their fate is uncertain. The bills have not made it out of the Senate Education Committee.

Under the bill passed by the House, schools would not be given a cumulative letter grade, but would be given letter grades in five metrics. Those metrics are:

  1. Proficiency in math and English language arts
  2. Growth in math and English language arts
  3. Growth in proficiency among English as a second language students
  4. Graduation rates
  5. Academic performance compared to similar schools.

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