Published Online: November 24, 1999
Published in Print: November 24, 1999, as State Journal


State Journal

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A Test for Treasury

The ways of state government can defy intuition.

Take, for instance, a shift about to take place in Michigan's capital. By order of Gov. John Engler, the administration of the state's student-proficiency exams is moving from the education department to the treasury department.

Treasury? Yes, treasury.

Next year, the proficiency tests will for the first time determine who gets scholarships. Students who do well on the 11th grade exames will win one- time scholarships of up to $2,500 to help pay for college or other postsecondary training.

That link to scholarships is what prompted the governor's order, which will go into effect in the new year, said Maureen McNulty Saxton, a spokeswoman for the treasury department--the agency that has overseen Michigan's financial-aid programs for higher education since the early 1990s.

Further, Ms. Saxton said, "we need some administration oversight of the test" from those who are responsible for awarding the merit scholarships.

Gov. John Engler

Not surprisingly, state education officials haven't shown universal enthusiasm for the move.

Some members of the state school board, which has often warred with Gov. Engler during his tenure, say administration of the tests is an educational function and should stay put. They have also objected to the idea of attaching money to the tests, which are also given in the 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th grades.In general, the board members who have no argument with the governor's order are Republicans, like Mr. Engler. The board members who dislike it are Democrats.

In private, some educators say that the governor took the tests away from the education department because of his unhappiness with the eight-member board, which sets policy for the department.

But Ms. Saxton said Mr. Engler's order represents not political payback but political savvy. "The [test] has been under attack from the ideological left and the ideological right for a while," she said, "and it will help everyone to have the test out in the open."

—Bess Keller

Vol. 19, Issue 13, Page 18

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