Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Persistent Funding Gaps in Michigan K-12 Schools

Almost a year to the date, I posted on the continuing inequity of K-12 school funding in Michigan. I have since retired but you can go back and read (or re-read) that post at:

One More Time on Equity in School Funding

It is a fairly comprehensive post yet updating it with school funding data from this current school year would not make any difference. The inequity persists.

"Overall, the funding inequities we documented in the 2015 report appear slightly smaller, but persist. Compared to 2015, the national funding gap between high and low poverty districts decreased slightly — by 3 percentage points — from 10 percent to 7 percent. The national funding gap between districts with the highest and lowest percentages of students of color went from 15 percent to 13 percent, representing a 2 percentage point drop." ~ Education Trust, Funding Gaps 2018

Education Trust has released a new analysis of inequity in school funding just this past week. Here's what the report says about U.S. and Michigan schools when it comes to K-12 funding for affluent versus those schools predominantly serving low-income students. You can go back to my post linked above and see specific examples of this persistent inequity. Since our state Republican-led legislature votes each year on school funding, the blame for this inequity lies with the politicians.

Education Trust, Funding Gaps 2018

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Governor's K-12 Funding Proposal Doesn't Do Enough

I'm no longer in a school superintendent's seat but that doesn't eliminate my concern as a citizen and taxpayer for the continuing underfunding of our public schools in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder has proposed an increase for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year but it still falls way short of making up the huge $470 per pupil cut implement in Snyder's first year. In fact, as the following slide shows, my former school district lost close to a total of $2 million since that cut. This is a district that serves a high-needs population but receives less per student in the foundation allowance -- the major share of K-12 funding -- than several other districts in the county, as well as several very affluent districts in Oakland County on the east side of the state.

A study mandated by the Republican legislature (which tried to stop the study before it happened and then simply shelved the results when they were presented) found that K-12 funding was becoming less equal as noted by the conservative-leaning Detroit News. The study used a "successful schools" model that concluded the base foundation allowance should be raised immediately to $8,667. In addition, districts like Godfrey-Lee should be receiving additional funding for at-risk and English-learners well beyond that provided by state or federal grants. 

The study failed to analyze the growing need for additional special education funding, a category that has NEVER been fully funded by federal or state governments. Lieutenant Governor Calley put together a subcommittee to review special education funding and in 2017 the group reported:
"...special education funding experienced a 15.6 percent reduction (between) 2011-12 (and) 2015-16. It can be expected that a student in special education will have greater need, and therefore require additional services at a greater cost than a student not in special education. However, state and federal funding do not cover most of those additional costs." (emphasis added)
Because the law requires full services for special education-eligible students, those costs continue to be covered by a school's general fund budget that primarily comes from the foundation allowance. That means less funding for classroom instruction as a whole.

Because the legislature and governor have refused thus far to implement the recommendations of the 2016 study, a second study was initiated and the results were recently publicized. It concludes that:
"The base per-pupil cost to educate a regular education K-12 student in Michigan is $9,590, which does not include transportation, food service or capital costs, and only includes pension costs at 4.6% of wages." (emphasis added)
The study also calls for increases for students with special needs, transportation costs, and for school districts serving less than 7,500 students. When adjusting for inflation and comparing to the foundation allowance in 1995, the study's recommended $9,590 has a value of approximately $6,061 per pupil. Not quite what is needed but it takes a strong step towards closing the gap in lost revenue.

Given the legislature's propensity for personal tax cuts and massive business tax cuts that have little to do with the growing needs of our state or making our Michigan education system a "Top 10 in 10," it's highly unlikely that gap will ever shrink. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Republican Tax Plan Widens Economic Gap to Further Attack Public Schools

The final version of the House and Senate tax plan which will likely be voted on this week includes a provision to expand the benefits of "529 savings plans" to include tax-free distributions to pay for K-12 tuition and/or homeschool expenses. According to Forbes, "The best sign this is smart policy is that the Left is going completely apoplectic. They hate the idea that parents can free themselves from the big teachers' unions..." In other words, the tax bill is intended by the wealthy, who have money to invest, to further cripple one of our most venerable and important public institutions, but is that all it is? No.

Previously, 529 plans have offered tax-free earnings growth and tax-free withdrawals when invested funds are used to pay for college. With the new law, families will be also able to withdraw up to $10,000 per year tax-free for elementary, high school or homeschool expenses. But here's the catch according to the Chronicle of Higher Education: "In order to save money, you have to have money. While some families with incomes below $50,000 hold accounts, the bulk of account holders make more."

Richard V. Reeves of the Brookings Institute, author of Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It, claims: "As we show in our new paper, 'A tax break for "Dream Hoarders": What to do about 529 college savings plans,' almost all of the benefits of the deductions go to families at the top of the income distribution (emphasis added).  In other words, the folks who don't really need the tax breaks to send their kids to private schools, and on average didn't need them to meet college costs, will now enjoy a further economic advantage with an expanded 529 plan.

The Brookings Institute published several charts to illustrate who benefits the most from 529 plans. They pretty much speak for themselves:

President Obama, recognizing the inequity of the 529 plans initiated by President G.W. Bush, attempted in 2015 to change them so that the benefits would go to a broader range of families. This was shot down by not only the Republicans but also members of his own party, which once again demonstrates that the wealthy have all the power when it comes to politics. Those of us on the lower end of the economic scale have none. At that time, the GAO pointed out that the main beneficiaries to 529 plans are upper-middle-class families. It found that back in 2010, nearly half of all families with 529 plans had an annual income of over $150,000. Of course they do, because they have the money to invest to accrue the long-term tax benefits. But most in the upper brackets, don't need them.

Voices for Kids provides a concise summary of the potential damage and further inequity created by this last minute amendment to satisfy anti-government conservatives:
Both the House and Senate bills included provisions that would expand the 529 college saving account plan, which allows parents to save money and withdraw that money for higher education expenses (tax-free) to also cover up to $10,000 of tuition at private and parochial schools. (Language in the Senate bill also covers home schooling expenses.) The provision is a federal subsidy for private and parochial school tuition. 
As it currently stands, 529 plans are used by largely upper-income households (median income of $142,400) and by making the proposed changes, it will only increase the growing inequality in educational attainment between high-income families and low and middle-income families. The planned expansion of this tax break is welcomed by school choice advocates, who argue that public schools are unable to properly educate students and should be more market-oriented. However, this planned expansion would be largely unavailable to low and middle-income families. 
In reality, this plan does not really expand school choice options to anyone. It actually undercuts the savings benefits of the plan if they are used for private and parochial K-12 tuition. Pulling out the money sooner both lessens the tax benefit of the plan and leaves less money available in the plan for college. If you are a wealthy family, this is not much of a problem. But if you are a middle class or low-income family, it would be very unwise to use this money before college. The only real beneficiaries of this expansion would be people who are high-income and wish to have the government subsidize their kids private school tuition. 
Withdrawing funds from the savings plans sooner rather than later could also have implications on the investment strategies employed by states and fund managers. Such changes could impact the eventual rates of return for all participants in 529 programs.
Along with capping the deduction for local property taxes and/or state and local income and sales taxes at $10,000, the 529 measures could set back public funding for education. Combined with the trillion dollar plus increase to the federal deficit the tax bill could bring, it’s another demonstration of why our members of Congress need to vote down this bill.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities is also concerned that 529 plans would not only harm public schools but further limit quality educational opportunities for students with disabilities:
First, expanding the use of 529 plans in this way would benefit only some families. These savings plans are not accessible to low- and middle-income families who cannot pay out-of-pocket for private school tuition. Only those parents who can afford to save thousands of dollars to pay for private school out-of-pocket will be able to use a 529 plan. 
In addition, expanding the 529 will allow money to be spent on private school tuition tax-free. This incentivizes wealthy families to send their children to private and religious schools. Tax incentive programs like this are closely related to private school voucher programs and serve to redirect public funds to pay for private school tuition. 
Instead of creating a federal tax incentive program that reduces tax revenue for some families and diverts public funding to pay for private education, we should be investing in our public schools and providing resources to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

100 Years Ago: 126th Infantry finalizes training and prepares for embarkation to France

West Michigan's 126th Infantry and its parent 32nd Division (Michigan and Wisconsin) were ensconced in in a rigid training camp at Waco, Texas throughout the fall and early winter of 1917-18, as they awaited impending orders for transport to Europe.

Toward the latter part of November, new training schedules were taken up including instruction in the "new infantry weapons and specialties for all troops." This included new offensive maneuvers based on lessons learned from the European battlefields. The all-important training in the wearing of a gas mask and the digging of trenches were undertaken. Full-pack night marches as long as nine miles was part of the regular regimen.

The disciplined training paid off.
"During the latter part of November and early in December the Division was visited and carefully examined by War Department artillery and infantry inspectors, and was judged ready for overseas service. Their reports to Washington indicated that the 32nd was more advanced in its training at that time than any other division then in the U.S. Its equipment was very nearly complete, and the spirit which had developed no doubt also influenced the inspectors. Accordingly notice was shortly forthcoming from Washington that the Division would be sent to France at the earliest practicable date.
"Many officers and men, of course, desired furloughs to say good-bye to the folks at home; but the journey north was a long one, and there was considerable uncertainty as to just when the movement would begin, so leaves were impracticable, and relatives who took the hint that there might shortley be 'something doing' came to Waco for the final farewells."
Despite large numbers of men received from Camp Custer (Michigan) and Camp Grant (Illinois) during the last three months, the division would still be greatly under strength at the time of embarkation in January 1918.

The 32nd Division was organized with the following principle units:

63rd Infantry Brigade
125th Infantry Regiment (Michigan)
126th Infantry Regiment (Michigan)
120th Machine Gun Battalion

64th Infantry Brigade
127th Infantry Regiment (Wisconsin)
128th Infantry Regiment (Wisconsin)
121st Machine Gun Battalion

57th Field Artillery Brigade
119th Field Artillery Regiment (75mm)
120th Field Artillery Regiment (75mm)
121st Field Artillery Regiment (155mm)
107th Trench Mortar Battery

Divisional Troops
Headquarters Troop
119th Machine Gun Battalion
107th Engineer Regiment
107th Field Signal Battalion
Division Trains (supply and service)

There had been several significant reorganizations of the division and regiments during the train-up period which resulted in the following organization of 126th elements and cities each originated from:

1st Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company A, Coldwater
Company B, Adrian
Company C, Kalamazoo
Company D, Ionia

2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company E, Ann Arbor
Company F, Jackson
Company G, Detroit
Company H, Detroit

3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company I, Big Rapids and Muskegon
Company K, Grand Rapids
Company L, Grand Haven and Muskegon
Company M, Grand Rapids

The Machine Gun Company, Supply Company, Sanitary Detachment, and Band, all from Grand Rapids, virtually remained unchanged except to receive personnel from throughout the regiment to bring them to full strength. The regimental headquarters detachment was also from Grand Rapids and made up of men from the former Company L.

About this time, Brigadier General William G. Haan, a regular army officer, was placed permanently in command of the Division. He would come to be respected and loved by his soldiers.
"The period of training at Camp MacArthur until the middle of January was onecontinual round of hard work from early morning until late at night. It was a period, Ithink when we first realized the possibilities of the human body and mind to withstandfatigue." (Hamburger)


Gansser, Emil B. History of The 126th Infantry in the War with Germany. Grand Rapids, MI. 1920

Britten, David G., Lieutenant Colonel. Courage Without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard. Xlibris, 2004

American Battle Monuments Commission: 32d Division Summary of Operations in the World War, 1943

Joint War History Commissions of Michigan and Wisconsin: The 32nd Division in the World War. 1920

Crothers, Herbert D. Diary of Company M 126th Infantry, 32nd Division in the World War. Unpublished Manuscript.

Hamburger, Kenneth E., Learning Lessons in the American Expeditionary Forces. Publication 24-1. United States Army Center for Military History.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Recalling the "End of Watch" for a Lee Rebel Hero

A recent, unexpected convergence led me to research and write this post. At the conclusion of the annual meeting of the Lee High School Hall of Fame selection committee in early November, Mr. Tom Thompson mentioned the name of an alumnus we might want to consider for future induction. The name sounded familiar but didn't register with me right at the moment. Several days later I was surprised to receive a message from Tom Maas, a member of the Wyoming Historical Commission, with an attached article from an edition of the Wyoming Alliance nearly fifty-one years ago. It was a front page photo from the funeral held a couple days earlier for Grand Rapids Police Sergeant Stanley VanTuinen, coincidentally the same Lee grad mentioned by Coach Thompson.

Since I was only 11 years old at the time, I was hooked on learning more.

Stanley VanTuinen, 1949
Stanley - or Stan as he was known to his fellow officers and likely his classmates - was born May 7, 1931 to Ralph and Cora VanTuinen. Like many in the Godfrey-Lee community at that time, Ralph and Cora whose maiden name was Afman, were from families of Dutch immigrants. Ralph, the second oldest of six children, was born in Friesland, Netherlands at the close of the 19th century, and arrived in the U.S. as a child in the year 1901. Cora's parents were both from Holland as well as two of her eleven brothers and sisters. The others including Cora were born in America.

Ralph's younger brother Peter was born in Michigan in 1903. Peter and his wife Alice (DeVries) had six children, the third eldest being Alvin who married Dolores Groendyke on December 3, 1948. Alvin and Dolores were the parents of Lee High School retired football coach Bernie VanTuinen, and the grandparents of Lee Middle School science teacher Troy VanTuinen. Bernie is Stanley's first cousin one-time-removed and Troy is a first cousin two-times-removed. They share common ancestors in the likes of Simon K. and Ida (Bylsma) VanTuinen, both immigrants from Holland who arrived here in 1901.

Ralph and Cora were married in October 1921 and eventually took up residence in Wyoming, Michigan. By the time young Stan, the fifth-born of six children, had been enrolled at Godfrey School for kindergarten, the family was residing in a home on Johanna Avenue south of Burton Street. At some point later on while Stan was still in school, they moved to Cleveland Avenue, just a couple houses down from today's Wyoming Veterans Memorial Garden.

1947 Lee Echo Yearbook
Stan attended Godfrey-Lee schools for all thirteen years, graduating on June 17, 1949. A four-year band student in high school he was also a member of the Bible Club for three years, pitched for the baseball team his sophomore and junior years, and was a member of the L-Club (Varsity Club) during his senior year.

A slightly tall student in comparison to most of his classmates, he played the big base horn. Stan must of enjoyed his time with the band because its what came to mind when asked to write a line for the traditional yearbook Senior Class Will:  "I, Stanley Van Tuinen, do hereby bequeath my ability to make music on the base horn to Gary Vander Scheer."

Stan's younger sister, Shirley was also a student at Lee at the time and was a member of the junior class during his senior year.

Senior Band 1948-49. VanTuinen is second row center.
Stan and Miss Esther Joan Key, a graduate of Godwin High School, were married on December 14, 1951. Thirteen months later he joined the Grand Rapids police force where he served in the patrol division until mid-1965. At that time he was transferred to the accident bureau and a year later promoted to the rank of sergeant, whereupon he returned to the patrol division. During his shortened career VanTuinen received two commendations: one for bravery in the summer of 1960 for a daring, but unsuccessful attempt to save a man who jumped or fell in the Grand River, and a second for "alertness and response to duty" in April 1962 for his arrest of two men wanted in an armed robbery.

LimeLite Room Bar, 725 S. Division Avenue, c.1963
Photo from the GRPL Local History Collections
On a cold Saturday, December 3, 1966, two Grand Rapids officers responded to a call regarding an incident at the LimeLite Room bar on South Division Avenue near Franklin Street. According to the report and subsequent testimony in a preliminary exam, an individual had been firing a gun in the bar in a threatening manner. When the officers arrived, the alleged perpetrator had already fled the scene and witnesses described the event as an effort to intimidate another individual in the bar. This included firing at least one shot into the floor of the bar. They identified the shooter as Robert C. Woods, a 45-year old man who lived on Madison Avenue near the Catholic Cemetery and across the street from then-Madison Public School.

Residence of Robert C. Woods, 854 Madison Ave SE
The front and rear doors are directly opposite each other.
Photo from the GRPL Local History Collections
One of the witnesses accompanied the officers to the house where they met up with Sergeant VanTuinen, who along with one of the officers, remained at the front of the house while the other officer went around to the rear. The officer with VanTuinen joined the one at the back and both described later that they could see into the house and that Woods had a gun. They called for him to put it down and come out but he refused. The officers told him he was under arrest for felonious assault but Woods claimed he didn't do anything. More officers arrived at the house and a verbal threat was made to break in the front door. According to the officers' reports, Woods said he'd come out but he wasn't going to put down his gun. Moments later, before the officers could act, a "blast of a shotgun could be heard" and one of the officers yelled, "He got Stan!" The blast had hit VanTuinen in the face at close range. The other officers opened fire wounding the assailant before apprehending him and taking him into custody.

Headline of Sunday, December 4, 1966
Sergeant VanTuinen, 35 years old with a wife and six children, was declared dead on arrival at St. Mary's Hospital, but the police superintendent said he believed Stan was killed instantly. The ambulance taking him there became involved in an accident near the hospital so the attendants were forced to use a stretcher to complete the final block. Later on during the murder trial, Patrolman Alfred Yentsch tearfully described a few moments when he was alone with the mortally wounded VanTuinen: "I took his pulse," he said. "It was very weak. He was breathing a little . . . hemorrhaging pretty badly, and when he breathed the blood came out." Yentsch said that he was alive maybe for another minute ". . . and then passed away." Yentsch could not go on and Judge Letts called a short "recess to permit him to regain his composure." (GRP 5/18/67 p. 29)

Stanley VanTuinen Family
The Grand Rapids Press, December 5, 1966
Services were held on December 6th at the Wyoming Park Baptist Church on Porter Street with internment at Kentwood's Pine Hill Cemetery near VanTuinen's home. Officiated by Rev. Wendell Babcock, over 700 mourners, including more than 200 fellow officers attended the funeral and graveside ceremony despite poor weather. The church was filled and a couple hundred more mourners had to be seated in the basement. The procession to the cemetery stretched nearly three miles down 28th Street, with Wyoming Police officers posted at every intersection along the way.

At the gravesite, Grand Rapids Police Captain Francis Pierce, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient, commanded the police firing detail that rang out three volleys over the grave. Taps was played as a final tribute to a Lee Rebel's "end of watch." As the Press noted, "Soft sobbing was heard as the notes hung in the air. The widow and children left the grave, crying softly and quietly. Supt. of Police William A. Johnson said, 'We are all grievously shocked. Stan was a fine gentleman and we'll miss him. I think the turnout today was a fine tribute to him and his family.'" (GRP 5/7/67)

In addition to his wife, Esther, and six children (ages) - Gary (14), Gayle (11), Carol (9), Marcia (6), Nancy (4) and Marilyn (2) - he was survived by his parents and five siblings. At the time of his death, VanTuinen's brother William was also a member of the Grand Rapids police force and would serve 38 years before his retirement. He passed away in 1995.

Wyoming Alliance edition of December 8, 1966
VanTuinen's murder shocked the city and surrounding area. A fund was started to help out the family and nearly $10,000 had been raised to help them in just a couple of days following Stan's death. The Grand Rapids Press Editorial railed at the lack of insurance protection for police officers' families. Future President Gerald R. Ford, a member of Congress and House Republican Leader at the time, put out a press notice that he was appalled by the low pay and insufficient financial support available to surviving families of police officers who die in the line of duty. It was his intention to submit a bill to correct that.

Prior to VanTuinen's murder, only three Grand Rapids officers had been fatally wounded in the line of duty: Detective George Powers was shot by a train bandit in 1895; Officers Samuel Slater and George Brandsma were gunned down in 1921 trying to apprehend a bank robber.

A preliminary hearing was held the week of Christmas 1966 before Police Court Judge Roman Snow. The accounts of the attending police officers as well as witnesses, both from the LimeLite Room incident and the murder of VanTuinen, were provided in detail over two days to determine if enough evidence existed to charge Woods. Judge Snow determined there was and the following month, Woods stood mute in Circuit Court so the judge entered a plea of innocence on his behalf. The case was remanded to Circuit Court Judge John T. Letts. A venue change was immediately requested by Woods' public defender but after consideration, it was denied. A jury was soon selected and the case went to trial in May.

During the trial, an attempt was made by Woods' defense counsel and his wife, also named Esther, to connect the shooting with his military service during World War II, where she claimed part of his duties included the morbid collection and burial of dead soldiers. Subsequent expert testimony by a psychologist and two psychiatrists ultimately refuted that contention and on Friday evening, May 26, 1967, after deliberating for less than three hours, the jury found Robert C. Woods guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of Sergeant VanTuinen. The verdict carried a mandatory life sentence without parole and Woods eventually died in prison on July 30, 1988.

The Grand Rapids Bar Association posthumously honored Sergeant Stanley VanTuinen with the 1967 Liberty Bell Award, along with Lt. Commander Roger B. Chaffee who had died in the Apollo 1 fire in January of that year.

During the annual Police Memorial Day Service in May, VanTuinen is honored along with other officers who lost their lives in the line of duty.  His name is inscribed at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Judiciary Square, Washington, DC.

The Thin Blue Line

Stan's son, Gary VanTuinen told The Grand Rapids Press in December 1966 that he wanted to become a police officer. He joined the Kent County Sheriff's Department in 1976 and was recognized for 30 years of service by the Board of Commissioners in December 2006. He's now retired.

Stan's second youngest daughter, Nancy VanTuinen Niewiadomski passed away in April 2017. She was 55.

Update:  Today was December 3, 2017, fifty-one years to the day that Sergeant VanTuinen was gunned down in a senseless act. Although I never knew him personally, I now feel somewhat close having spent the last month researching his life and death. It was a beautiful sunny day in contrast to the day he lost his life. I stopped by Pine Hill Cemetery in Kentwood to pay my respects to a fellow Rebel.



Lee High School Echo Yearbooks 1947 and 1949, Wyoming, Michigan

Multiple editions of The Grand Rapids Press from 12/4/66 to 6/9/67, Grand Rapids Public Library Local History Collections

Grand Rapids Bar Association website http://www.grbar.org/?72 retrieved 11/7/17

Betty Gibout Real Estate Listing Cards, Grand Rapids Public Library Local History Collections

Facebook messages with Bernie VanTuinen 11/5-6/17

Wyoming Alliance, 12/8/66, p. 1 courtesy Tom Maas, Wyoming Historical Commission

Officer Down Memorial Page, www.odmp.org, retrieved 11/7/17

Ford Press Releases - Fifth District, 1966-1968, https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/document/0054/4525538.pdf, retrieved 11/7/17

National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial website: http://www.nleomf.org/memorial/, retrieved 11/29/17