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Michigan Approves Laws On School-Finance, Education Reform

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The debate in Michigan over school reform and how to pay for it has shifted to the House following the Senate's approval of several key bills.

A proposed constitutional amendment, passed by a 26-to-8 vote on March 16, would ease property-tax burdens by lowering assessments--now a uniform 50 percent--to 35 percent for businesses and 25 percent for homeowners. At the same time, it would raise the state sales tax from 4 percent to 6 percent, and stipulate that 12 percent of the general fund be reserved for school aid in every fiscal year.

The measure's sponsors estimate that the changes would net schools an additional $250 million annually.

If passed by the House and signed by the governor, the measure would have to be approved by voters. The Senate left it to the House to decide whether to place the bill on the August primary ballot or the November general-election ballot.

The Senate also approved a package of school-reform bills by an 25-to-11 vote on March 22. The measures would:

  • Mandate, for the first time, a core curriculum for public schools;
  • Require the formulation of building-level improvement plans created by panels including administrators, teachers, and parents;
  • Improve the collection of data on dropouts; and
  • Require students to pass a minimum-competency test in order to receive a state-endorsed high-school diploma.

Senator Dan DeGrow, chairman of the Senate education committee, said he expected the House to complete action on the bills by early May.

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