Opinion: Hold Schools Harmless During Lame Duck Session

Riverview Board of Education President Tim Bohr and Superintendent Dr. Russell Pickell meets with Senator Coleman Young II

By Riverview Community Schools

On Nov. 28, Riverview Schools Superintendent, Dr. Russell Pickell, and Board of Education President, Tim Bohr, joined over seventy school leaders from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties to meet with representatives and urge them to hold schools harmless during the 2018 lame duck session. Lame duck refers to the time between the November election and January first when the new legislature begins.

During this time, many outgoing legislators try to rush in legislation that would otherwise stand little chance of passing when the new team takes over. 

State education policy affects all students in our state. Making hasty or quick decisions about policy too often leads to unintended consequences for schools, students and school districts. Our state needs serious leadership and collaboration to address the many concerns inherent in our current education system. 

School leaders are asking to work collaboratively with legislators to find solutions, however, there is no way to bypass the time needed for the serious conversations required for this work in the rushed environment of Lame Duck. 

There are many examples of proposals that were rushed through the legislature during the lame duck session that wound up failing or creating far more problems than they fixed. 

THE EAA: Legislation to create the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) was quickly introduced and moved during lame duck as an attempt to “fix schools” by creating a single, statewide school district run by the Governor; as well as establishing a new accountability system. The EAA went on to be a disastrous failure and has since closed its doors. 

PROPOSAL 1: A massive package of bills to change road funding in the final days of 2014 was a complete failure and rejected by voters. In addition to not providing adequate resources to fix the roads, voters saw how it would have hurt schools by diverting money away from the School Aid Fund through changes in how the state collects taxes. Its failure to be approved by voters highlighted the need for serious debate on funding issues, not quick fixes done in the middle of the night. 

THE GAG ORDER: The legislature pushed through its controversial “gag order” bill during lame duck that sought to limit school officials’ ability to inform and educate the community within 60 days of an upcoming millage election. A federal court permanently blocked the bill from taking effect. Since the bill was amended very early in the morning with little review, legislators didn’t know that they had voted for new restrictions and they immediately regretted it. 

The consequences of rushing major reforms through during lame-duck could be disastrous for schools and students throughout Michigan and the legislature should resist any effort to do so. 

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