Monday, December 29, 2014


Original Story:

Adrian — When it came time to pick a college, Abby Slusher leaned toward a private school near her southeastern Michigan home for the small campus and class sizes. Her mother pushed Adrian College for another reason: A new program guaranteeing every graduate would make more than $37,000, or get some or all student loans reimbursed.

Adrian is among the first colleges to take out insurance policies on every incoming freshman and transfer student who has student loans and at least two years of school remaining.

"She (her mother) said, 'Look at me, I'm still trying to pay my student loans off — this would be great. I don't want you in this situation,' " said Slusher, 18, who is studying to become a social worker. "And seeing her in this situation, I don't want that."

The idea has been around for a few decades at Yale Law School and specific programs elsewhere such as seminary and social work degrees. Some small religious schools started offering guarantees to all new students in recent years, but Adrian President Jeffrey Docking is taking it further by framing the program as a solution to skyrocketing tuition costs and student loan defaults.

His crusade has gotten the attention of U.S. lawmakers and education officials.

"Obviously, we feel like this is a big solution to a big problem — maybe the biggest problem right now in higher education," Docking said. "We felt like we needed to make a grand statement."

Adrian paid roughly $575,000 this year, or $1,165 per student, to take out policies on 495 students. For those who graduate and get a job that pays less than $20,000 a year, the college will make full monthly student loan payments until they make $37,000 a year. With a job that pays $20,000 to $37,000, the college makes payments on a sliding scale.

There's no time limit for the payment plan, but the college caps total loan payments at $70,000 per student. Adrian's annual cost of tuition, room and board is about $40,000 before any forms of financial aid.

The school has 1,700 students.

Docking already sees benefits: The entering freshmen class is up about 50 students to 570; to break even, the school determined it needed about two-dozen new students who took out loans.

He credits the program in part for the enrollment increase but says other efforts, like launching a varsity bass fishing team, have served as a lure. Top Michigan colleges offer degree programs that align directly with many occupations that are expected to experience growth.

About 35 miles northwest of Adrian, Spring Arbor University, a small Christian institution, offered a similar guarantee to every incoming freshman in fall 2013. A conversation with Spring Arbor's former president inspired Docking.

Although Spring Arbor officials see value in the program, they're likely to scale it back next year.

"For the vast majority of students, it's not a deciding factor in choosing Spring Arbor," said school spokesman Malachi Crane.

"Is there a way to better tailor it to students who really need it and have the desire to have that option? For us, it makes more fiscal sense not to automatically assign it to each and every student."

Both programs were made possible by the Loan Repayment Assistance Program Association, a Bloomington, Indiana-based organization that works with U.S. colleges and universities on creating loan repayment programs.

Peter Samuelson, the organization's president, said some schools "have ramped up, ramped back down and ramped back up again" with loan programs, but overall results are positive.

"There's much more likelihood they're going to complete college successfully," Samuelson said.

To get word out about the program, Docking met with other university presidents and testified last year before a U.S. House higher education subcommittee. Retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., made a floor statement in June praising Adrian's program as a model for other colleges.

Docking said federal education officials told him at a meeting in August that they are exploring ways to promote the program.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Original Story:

EAST LANSING – Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon was given a $230,000 raise and $100,000 bonus today at the MSU Board of Trustees meeting.

Simon has declined to accept raises yearly since 2007, often putting the board in an awkward position, and donating the money back to the university. She has been president for 10 years and is the second longest serving chief executive among the 14 Big Ten presidents. An Atlanta University Lawyer specializes in higher education finance and university charters.

"This has been an ongoing battle," said Joel Ferguson, chair of the university board of trustees with a smile. "But this time we are not going to apologize for compensating you for what you deserve. This is the one time we are going to ignore you."

The board increased Simon's salary from $520,000 to $750,000, and, gave her a $100,000 retention bonus.

That puts Simon in the top quartile of her Big Ten peers, according to Mitch Lyons, chair of the board's compensation committee.

"While we respect the wishes of our president we felt it was important to keep the compensation of the position competitive with our peers," Lyons said. "If and when Simon decides to retire, we want to make sure any new candidates would see that the position is compensated properly." A Georgia Education Lawyer is experienced in assisting clients with board governance, bylaws, and business-related issues.

Simon said she respects the wishes of the board and understands the need to compensate the position.

"Even though I can't deny it formally today I still have plans to give it back," she said.

The compensation committee estimated that Simon and husband Roy have donated at least $1 million to MSU over the years.

Last year, for example, the board gave Simon a $125,000 bonus, which she donated back to MSU.

But Duncan Tarr, a junior that is an organizer of the student group MSU Students United, said the fact that Simon was given such a raise is shocking.

"At that same meeting there were some students from the MSU Sexual Assault Program that said they don't have enough counselors and funding to be able to operate effectively and yet the board gives our president a $230,000 raise," he said. An Atlanta College Lawyer is following this story closely.

Faylene Owen, chair of the board's finance committee, said she is proud of Simon and what she has accomplished for the university.

"I am astonished and awestruck by this woman," Owen said. "She is amazing and I feel she was also very instrumental in getting the FRIB (Facility for Rare Isotope Beams) here at MSU."

Simon was also complimented for her service on various public entities. She is the chairperson of the executive committee of the NCAA, vice-chair of the Association of American Universities and chair of the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board among others.Board approves infrastructure, construction projects• MSU trustees approved a $9.5 million project that will provide infrastructure improvements to West Circle Drive. It is the fourth and final phase of a north campus project to replace the 100-year-old arch style steam tunnels.• Trustees authorized the planned construction of permanent restrooms for MSU's 4-H Children's Garden, a popular destination for area K-12 students.• Trustees approved plans to reconstruct the parking lot of the MSU Community Music School at 4930 South Hagadorn Road, which includes demolition of a house on the property. The demolition will provide more space for parking.


Original Story:

Ferris State University’s School of Criminal Justice is in the final stages of designing a local Corrections Officers Training Academy that is slated to open in 2014.

In response to a recommendation by the Michigan Sheriff’s Association’s Training Council, the school plans to open a Corrections Officers Training Academy. Although Ferris will not be responsible for providing certification, the academy will allow two tracks for people interested in working in county jails.

“This academy experience will allow students to become eligible for certification by the Michigan Sheriff’s Association Training Council to become county jail corrections officers,” said Mischelle Stone, an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice.

Students already enrolled in the School of Criminal Justice bachelor’s degree program, on the corrections track, can take “Applied Correctional Strategies” in January 2014, a class that will make them eligible for certification through the MSATC. This class is only open to students who have already completed all of the corrections classes as prerequisites.

The School of Criminal Justice already allows students to obtain certification to be state prison corrections officers. The course allows students to become eligible for certification as county jail corrections officers.

“This will open up job opportunities for students graduating from the School of Criminal Justice,” Stone said. “With more than 80 counties in Michigan, this opens students up to a wealth of new opportunities.”

Besides the offered course, Ferris will open a separate academy in Summer 2014. Consisting of 160 hours of training, the academy is expected to cost $1,200 per person and is open to anyone.

The academy will take place on the Big Rapids campus in the Southwest Commons and it was designed for sheriffs to be able to send their current, pre-serviced employees that are not certified to be county corrections officers.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Original Story:

State school Superintendent Mike Flanagan announced Monday he is giving notice to Michigan’s charter school authorizers that he will exercise his “statutory authority” to prevent them from granting new charters if their performance overseeing the schools does not measure up.

Flanagan said a recent Free Press special report on charter schools led him to make the decision.

“This series of news articles has prompted me to think differently about whether to suspend an authorizer’s ability to open new charter schools,” Flanagan was quoted in a news release by the Michigan Department of Education. “It’s my authority in state law, and I will be using it.

“We are getting serious about quality choices for Michigan students. This is not just about getting academic results. It’s about total transparency and accountability.”

Flanagan’s office said he would not comment beyond the MDE news release, which contained several statements from him.

An eight-day Free Press series showed that MDE has never suspended an authorizer. Flanagan had said previously that the Legislature needs to provide specific guidelines for shutting down authorizers — the universities, community colleges and school districts that authorize and oversee charter schools’ performance.

The series, “State of Charter Schools,” found that Michigan charters receive nearly $1 billion per year in taxpayer money, often with little accountability or transparency on how those dollars are spent.

The series also reported that academic performance is mixed, and charter schools on average fare no better than traditional schools in educating students in poverty. Many poor-performing charter schools are allowed to continue operating for years by their authorizers.

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a professional organization for the state’s charter schools, said the move by Flanagan is good — and is proof Michigan already has tough oversight laws.

“He has had this authority for a number of years,” MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry said. “This statutory responsibility is part of Michigan’s strong system of charter school oversight, so it’s ironic that this announcement comes following a week of stories about how weak our state oversight is.

“We urge the state superintendent to base his decisions on academic performance and to work on oversight of all public schools. Charter schools have always been the most accountable of all public schools. What we need now is legislation that holds all public schools to this same level of accountability.”

MDE said that Flanagan has directed its staff “to establish rigorous principles that measure the transparency, academic and financial practices of the charter schools of each authorizer. The result of these measures will determine which authorizers would lose their chartering capabilities.”

In a statement, Flanagan also said: “There are many good charter schools in our state, which operate in the best interest of the students they serve and not to the best interest of the adults who run them. The news articles over the past several weeks have heightened attention to the issues that have shrouded charter schools with suspicion and contempt among some in the education community and the public — sometimes deserved, sometimes not.

“Let’s support what works and change what doesn’t.”

More than 140,000 students attend state-funded charter schools across Michigan, and in 2013-14 the state had 296 charters operating some 370 schools. In 61% of them, charter school boards have enlisted full-service, for-profit management companies — which contend that the taxpayer money they receive to run a school is private, not subject to public disclosure.

There are more than three dozen authorizers in Michigan. The largest in number of charters overseen are Central Michigan University with 64 and Grand Valley State University with 47.

Grand Valley spokeswoman Mary Eilleen Lyon said in an e-mail to the Free Press that the university has no problem with scrutiny:

“A report released by Supt. Mike Flanagan’s office last year showed that Grand Valley’s charter schools, as a whole, outperform all other authorizers using state tests as the assessment standard. Grand Valley has always acted in the best interest of the charter school students we serve. We believe in accountability ... and that our oversight procedures should be used as a model.”

Flanagan’s announcement drew praise from critics of the current system.

“It’s high time and it’s what we should be doing and should have been doing for some time,” said John Austin, president of the State Board of Education. “I welcome that.”

But Austin, who has been pushing for a stronger charter regulations, said a loophole in the law would need to be fixed. A suspended authorizer would still be able to maintain its existing charters. And nothing in state law would prevent those charters from expanding and opening new campuses.

Austin said it’s one of many legislative fixes that are needed in the charter law “to ensure transparency and to ensure clarity.”

The Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers said it hopes to sit down soon with Flanagan to talk about the changes.

“Multiple Michigan authorizers have been recognized nationally as model authorizers,” Jared Burkhart said in a statement. “In fact, many of the recommendations mentioned by Superintendent Flanagan are already in state law or are based on best practices already in place in Michigan.”

Flanagan received a series of letters during the Free Press series from Greg Richmond, the president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Richmond, who also sent letters to the governor’s office, urged that Michigan toughen its standards — especially in accountability and financial transparency.

“Our organization believes in accountability in education — for charter schools, traditional public schools, authorizers and school boards,” Richmond said. “No one should get a free pass. We all need to earn and maintain the public’s trust. A good accountability system for authorizers should have clear standards and a fair, transparent process.”

Flanagan said tougher standards are in authorizers’ best interests, too.

“All authorizers, especially the boards of trustees of the colleges and universities that authorize most of the charter schools, must pay better and closer attention to how their schools are operated,” Flanagan said. “The integrity of their institutions is at stake here, too.”

Friday, June 13, 2014


Original Story;

LOS ANGELES—A California judge declared the state's strong teacher-tenure laws unconstitutional in a rebuke that promises to spur similar challenges around the country.

The student plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state and two teachers unions successfully argued that statutes protecting teacher tenure, dismissal procedures and "last-in, first-out" layoff policies serve more often to keep ineffective instructors in the schools—hurting students' chances to succeed.

In Tuesday's decision in Vergara v. California, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu cited the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education "separate but equal" ruling, writing that the laws in this case "impose a real and appreciable impact on the students' fundamental right to equality of education."

The unions in the case—the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers—said they planned to appeal the ruling. The laws at issue will remain in effect pending that appeal.

The case seems certain to reverberate to other states. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the ruling "a mandate" for lawmakers and education leaders to address "practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students."

California has some of the strongest teacher-employment protections in the nation, and is one of only 10 states that require seniority be considered in layoff decisions. It also is one of five states where tenure can be earned within two years or less.

The court found in Tuesday's decision that as a result of that policy, "teachers are being released who would not have been had more time been provided for the process"—hurting not only students, but also many younger teachers.

The ruling also agreed with the plaintiffs' arguments that the poorest-quality teachers tend to end up in economically underprivileged schools and "impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students." Judge Treu, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, found all five of the statutes challenged in the case to be unconstitutional.

William Koski, a law professor at Stanford University, said the case will have "ripple effects" nationally. "We are going to see some litigation" in other states, he said, "and it's going to raise some pretty thorny issues about the role of courts and the judiciary in teacher employment policies and more specifically in education policies."

Frank Wells, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association, said, "We don't believe the court is the place to be making these kinds of policy decisions," adding that the state legislature is currently working on ways to amend the laws in question.

Marcellus McRae, a lawyer representing the student plaintiffs in the California case, called the ruling "an enormous validation and recognition of the fundamental constitutional right of all California students to equal educational opportunity," describing the case as "a catalyst for a discussion at the national level."

Dave Welch, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who funded the nonprofit advocacy group Students Matter, which brought the student plaintiffs together and filed the lawsuit, said after the ruling that it would be "within our realm to look at filing lawsuits in other states." Ted Olson, a U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush, leads the legal team.

Mr. Welch said Students Matter will "work tirelessly ourselves, as well as with other organizations" to "continue to fight for kids' rights to get what they deserve—a good education—throughout the country."

Research has pointed to teacher quality as the biggest in-school determinant for student performance. In recent years, many states have moved to simplify dismissal procedures for ineffective teachers and to encourage districts to consider teacher performance in layoff decisions rather than relying solely on seniority.

Such efforts to overhaul dismissal procedures in California failed in the legislature, so students and their advocates took the case to court—a novel way to test the longstanding state policies and one that could now become a template for a broader push. The trial, which ran for more than 30 days, concluded in late March.

"This is a huge deal," said Sandi Jacobs, a policy director for the National Council on Teacher Quality, a privately funded group that aims to change states' teacher-employment policies. "This has a huge ripple effect nationally in telling policy makers that policies that harm students can be challenged," said Ms. Jacobs, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case.

Ms. Jacobs's group points to Florida, Indiana and Colorado as having what it considers to be best-practice policies where classroom performance is a "top criterion" to be considered in layoff decisions.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers called it "a sad day for public education," saying the decision focused on a small number of bad teachers, and "strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job to any right to a voice."

California school districts employ roughly 280,000 full-time equivalent teachers, and the average annual teacher's salary is just under $70,000. One in eight public-school students in the nation attend California public schools.

James Ryan, dean of Harvard University's graduate school of education, said the verdict "will likely cause lawyers in other states to think about bringing similar suits." But he pointed out that the decision explicitly called on the state Legislature to fix the unconstitutional statues at issue. As a result, there will likely be "back-and-forth" between the Legislature and courts for many years to come.

"This has a long way before it's over in California and it hasn't even started yet in other states," Mr. Ryan said.