LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Majority Republican senators plan to quickly pass legislation that would rank schools' performance with letter grades and change how teachers are evaluated, but said Tuesday they'll likely put off their bid to repeal Michigan's law requiring union-scale wages on public building projects.
The education bills, including a proposed "early-warning" plan to detect financial problems in K-12 districts sooner, are among the Senate GOP's priorities in the next three months, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof of West Olive said. Other goals include boosting funding to help state crime labs process a backlog of rape evidence and speeding up the issuance of state permits to businesses and other landowners.
Some measures, such as switching from color-coded to A-through-F rankings of schools and implementing a new system to evaluate teachers and school administrators, didn't win passage in the two-year session that ended in December. Republicans have a 27-11 majority in the Senate, which they have controlled for more than 30 consecutive years.
"If (parents) know that all the schools in their area are measured in the same way, they can make better choices," Meekhof told reporters.
Other short-term priorities in the new session include again finalizing the state budget before the summer break, promoting skilled trades and vocational training and helping the mining and forestry industries grow, he said.
Meekhof said tax cuts — possibly an income tax reduction — are a "ways out" from being considered but "always at the top of our list." State revenue is $289 million short of projections in the current year and $527 million below expectations for the next fiscal year.
Notably, Meekhof didn't immediately prioritize dismantling the 50-year-old prevailing wage law that guarantees union-level pay on public works projects, even though the legislation was the first to be introduced in the Senate this year. GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and Democrats oppose the bills.
"I don't know if we can accomplish that in the first 90 days, but it is something that is high priority for our caucus and myself personally," Meekhof said. "It's simply puzzling to me that the taxpayer has to pay more for a building than the private industry."
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat and former high school teacher, said he likes Republicans' early emphasis on economic development and adopting a new tool to evaluate teachers and administrators — which is called for under a 2011 teacher tenure law.
"There's just no system now. My wife's a teacher. They're just sort of making it up as they go along until they have a model in place," he said.
Ananich expressed concern, however, with the idea of designating "F'' schools — saying parents should know how a school is doing but he would rather focus on a standard and ensuring that "people rise to it" instead of "telling people over and over again they're failures."
Meekhof said his caucus' frustration with Snyder's vetoes this month of gun, e-cigarette and forest bills subsided when the governor recently explained his thinking in person.
One of the vetoed measures contained a provision that would have let some people obtain concealed-carry licenses even if they had personal protection orders against them — a concern for Snyder and anti-domestic violence advocates. A Senate committee on Tuesday passed a new version of the bill without that provision.
The legislation's main thrust is to abolish county concealed weapon licensing boards while transferring their duties to county clerks or law enforcers.
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