No vote on Mich. school changes as lawmakers wait

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2009 5:47 PM

Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Friday that an agreement is near on changes that could help Michigan win up to $400 million in federal funding for schools.

"We are almost there," she told reporters after signing a smoking ban into law at a downtown brew pub. "The legislation is being drafted. We'll probably have a complete vote on it either later this afternoon or into the evening."

By late afternoon, the Senate had convened, gone into recess until 3:30 and then recessed again until 8 p.m. The House opened session at 1:30 but didn't finish taking attendance until nearly 4 p.m. It then took a break until 7:30 p.m. as lawmakers waited for the education bills to be drafted and printed.

After staying in session until midnight the night before, both chambers looked headed for another late-night session Friday before they could adjourn for the rest of the month. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said lawmakers could be forced to return Monday or Tuesday if drafting the bills took too long Friday.

The Obama administration is setting aside roughly $4 billion for states that aggressively shake up their school systems with an eye toward improved student performance. The changes being considered by Michigan legislators likely are needed for the state to have a chance at winning a share of the money.

Fewer than half the states are expected to secure cash from Race to the Top. Applications for the money are due in January.

Even if Michigan wins the money, it won't stop school districts from absorbing cuts of at least $165 per student and, for 39 more highly funded districts, roughly $300 per student more. Additional cuts could be announced next month after state economists estimate how much tax revenue Michigan will receive next year.

But no one wants to pass up the chance for more federal dollars. So talks have continued, even as negotiators from the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-led House have struggled to overcome differences on a variety of issues that could have wide-sweeping effects on Michigan schools.

A tentative deal reached early Friday morning would increase the number of charter schools by around 30, raise the dropout age from 16 to 18 starting with current sixth-graders and continue a requirement that school districts not start classes until after Labor Day.

The deal also ironed out differences over who would oversee failing schools, how ineffective teachers could be fired and how an alternative teacher certification program could be put in place.

"I'm comfortable with what has happened in this negotiation," Granholm said. "Everybody gave a little and got a little. The bottom line is, the students will get the most."