Michigan gov. ties school cash to scores

The system is intended to reward districts for results, even if their students aren't getting top scores.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is tying lots of strings to the extra cash he’s offering public schools, universities and communities in next year’s budget.

To get a share of the 1 percent increase being offered to K-12 schools in the budget year that starts Oct. 1, school districts would have to show through standardized tests that students are learning a full year’s worth of material as they move from grade to grade. They’d also have to offer a mix of options including schools of choice, online learning and dual enrollment for high school students who want to take college classes, according to a copy of the budget obtained in advance by the Associated Press.

Michigan for the first time in a decade heads into the next budget year in the black, rather than dealing with annual deficits of more than $1 billion. In the $48.2 billion spending plan Snyder presented to lawmakers Thursday at the state Capitol, he tapped rising revenues to restore some of the cuts made last year and invest in areas he says will help Michigan’s economy grow.

But those getting the funds will have to show improvement to get the money. It’s the same carrot-and-stick approach the Republican governor used last year to encourage school districts and local governments to shrink their share of employee health care benefits, share or privatize services and post online reports to make their activities more transparent to taxpayers.

“This year we had a surplus, so we had a lot of requests for funding. But good budgeting isn’t about taking that surplus and giving everyone a little bit more money,” Snyder said. Instead, it’s about “rewarding success and results.”

It also may be unique. While the federal No Child Left Behind program penalizes individual schools where students don’t make annual yearly progress, Snyder’s approach gives school districts financial rewards when students learn. It also doesn’t tie the money to test scores at individual buildings or to teacher performance, although tougher evaluations for teachers and school administrators are in the works.

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