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Bills to refine state education authority's role make progress

By Chad Livengood

(From The Detroit News, November 29th, 2012)

Lansing — Bills clarifying the role of the state's Education Achievement Authority are hung up on how schools would end state oversight.

The House and Senate education committees Thursday adopted amended versions of the bills, but "we're working on fine-tuning an exit strategy," said Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a Kent County Republican and sponsor of one of the bills introduced two days after the Nov. 6 election.

The bills seek to codify in law the existing EAA's agreement to run 15 schools formerly part of Detroit Public Schools and stave off legal challenges to that takeover. Rules establishing the EAA allow it to take control of public schools in the state that have been in the bottom 5 percent of academic achievement for three or more years.

Getting out of the EAA would require moving out of the bottom 5 percent rankings under the amended Senate bill, said Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township.

"If you're a 5 percent school, how much harder is it going to be to get to the 6 percent?" ask Pavlov, chair of the Senate Education Committee and sponsor of Senate Bill 1358.

The bills have garnered hours of testimony from advocates who see a statewide EAA as necessary to rescue failing schools from the hurdles of teacher labor contracts, dysfunctional school management and a lack of political will by school boards to implement reforms that disrupt the status quo.

"You can't change those things quickly," said Harrison Blackmond, state director of the Southfield-based group Democrats for Education Reform. "I see the EAA as … the emergency room of a hospital."

Opponents have countered by contending the legislation is a vehicle for further expanding charter schools and eroding local control of traditional public school districts.

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