lame duck? The Michigan session could be super lame this year

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Currently, the House of Representatives is scheduled for six days — December 6-8 and December 13-15 — but some of those session days could be canceled and others will likely be filled with farewell speeches from outgoing lawmakers rather than legislative deliberations.

Republican Speaker of the House Gideon D’Assandro said the leadership has not yet confirmed a timetable for the lame duck period. Senate GOP spokesman Matt Sweeney did not respond to questions about lame duck plans.

“A tame duck is probably a tame duck,” said Senator Jeff Irwin, an Ann Arbor Democrat. “There won’t be any insane action like there is sometimes, which isn’t surprising. What happened during the election doesn’t create much of an incentive for anyone to do so.”

In 2018, Democratic lawmakers accused the Republican majority of going too far in the weeks before Whitmer took power.

Among the Lame Duck laws passed at the time was an unpopular GOP-backed law that required the Michigan Department of Education to grade schools on an A to F scale so parents could better gauge performance.

Beginning January 1, Democrats will control both houses of the legislature. Still, there’s no reason for Republicans to push through anything partisan now just to veto Whitmer, said Ellen Lipton, chair of the Legislative Committee of the Michigan State Board of Education and a former Democratic congressman.

Rather than starting fights, Lipton said lawmakers will look for easy wins on issues where there is consensus and on bills that have already passed either house.

A set of bills that meet these criteria would help students with dyslexia, a learning disorder that can affect word recognition and reading skills.

The bills would require schools to screen for dyslexia, provide additional support for students with difficulties and ensure all students receive phonic reading instruction. They unanimously passed the Senate in May, but stalled on the House Education Committee.

Outgoing committee chair Pamela Hornberger of Chesterfield Township, who lost a close Senate race, has not said why the bills were not scheduled for a hearing.

Irwin, who has been leading the bills through the Legislature, said there is still time.

“It’s one of those few (packages) that is completely non-partisan,” he said. “It encourages literacy. It will help thousands upon thousands of children. Employers support it. And it’s gotten a tremendous amount of support.” And, he said, declining literacy underscores the urgency of getting the bills through.

“If we pass these laws and bring phonetic awareness back into the classroom, we will help thousands of children learn to read earlier and better,” Irwin said.

A few other bills also passed through one chamber and could be picked up by the other during the Lame Duck session.

Programming could count as a language credit

A bill would allow computer programming courses to replace world language credits required for high school graduation. It passed the House 59-49 in May and is now up for a vote in the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee.

Committee Chair Lana Theis, a Brighton Republican, has not said publicly if she plans to schedule a vote.

The Republican bill had some crossover support from House Democrats. It has the support of the business community saying computer programming is a skill relevant to future jobs.

The Michigan Department of Education opposes the bill.

Whitmer has not taken a public position.

The WorkKeys test may be optional

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation in July 2021 that would eliminate the requirement for high school juniors to take the WorkKeys professional readiness test.

Districts or individual students could still enroll, and the state would cover the cost of the test according to legislation.

Michigan juniors have taken the test since 2007, when it became part of the Michigan Merit Exam. The state spends about $4.4 million a year to enable about 105,000 students to take the test.

Supporters of the law say the money could be better spent on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, which most test-takers now pay for themselves.

Opponents say the WorkKeys tests help employers evaluate employees and help students discover career paths.

The Senate Education Committee held hearings on the bill earlier this year and recommended passage. It now awaits action in the Senate.

Tracie Mauriello reports on state education policies for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Reach them below [email protected].



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