The Detroit News. February 13, 2020
Whitmer not above Michigan’s reading law
In her response to the State of the Union address last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used a favorite catchphrase of Democrats when she said “no one is above the law.” While she was referring to President Donald Trump, Whitmer should take her own words to heart.
The previous week, when delivering the State of the State, Whitmer openly called for families to work around Michigan’s third grade reading law, passed in 2016 but just now starting to take effect. And she’s asking community foundations across the state to help these families with children facing retention “navigate” the law — code for aiding them in securing exemptions to the requirements.
“This punitive law could be a nightmare for families and this initiative will give parents and students the resources and support they need to get through it,” Whitmer said during her speech.
For a governor to downplay a law she simply doesn’t like in such a public way is no way to govern. Instead of working with Republican leaders in the Legislature to improve upon the current law, Whitmer has ostracized them (many of whom helped pass those reforms).
As Whitmer acknowledged in her speech, this state ranks in the bottom 10 for literacy. Those numbers are even more dire in urban areas such as Detroit, which consistently posts the lowest reading and math scores of large public school districts around the U.S.
Rather than ask foundations to help families skirt the law, Whitmer should encourage them to support programs that are seeing real results for students. Beyond Basics, for example, has an excellent track record in getting struggling readers in Detroit up to grade level in a short timeframe. General Motors recently committed $1 million to that effort.
The governor points to her efforts to double down on early literacy, including her proposal of a new preschool program for struggling districts.
Yet that doesn’t address the problem facing too many Michigan third graders who currently can’t read or struggle to read at grade level. The state’s former policy of passing students who can’t read along to fourth grade clearly hasn’t worked.
And such social promotion doesn’t help any student. In fact, it’s incredibly harmful. That’s the actual “nightmare” Whitmer needs to address.
The third grade reading law already includes many exemptions for families and schools, in addition to early intervention measures, and those issues were seriously debated at the time.
As Ben DeGrow, education policy director at the Mackinac Center, has pointed out, Michigan should stay the course with the law and give it a chance. Other states like Florida have a similar law and have evidence showing that students who were held back ended up showing much more progress later on, compared to socially promoted students who continued to struggle.
DeGrow notes an area Michigan should pay more attention to is teacher preparation programs, which aren’t doing enough to get teachers ready to teach reading — especially to students who may require additional assistance.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who helped oversee many of his state’s effective education reforms, told us last year that states need to “be bold” if they want their schools to improve.
Michigan continues to prove it’s not up to that challenge.
The Mining Journal. February 11, 2020
Identity theft vexing state tax return process
Local and state media have reported that cyber scammers are pilfering residents’ identities and using the theft to steal income tax returns. It’s happened in recent years all across the state, including right here in Superiorland.
In an effort to head off further thefts, the Michigan Department of Treasury is taking things to a new level: anyone who files a state income tax return may receive a letter via snailmail asking for additional information to confirm their identity.
After a taxpayer confirms his or her identity by taking a short online quiz or submitting paperwork, the tax refund will be issued, a department press release states. A phone option is available as an alternative to the online quiz.
“We are making progress in the fight against tax-related identity theft,” said Deputy State Treasurer Glenn White, who oversees Treasury’s Tax Administration programs. “If you receive one of these letters, please follow the instructions carefully. Your security is important to us. We take every measure we can to protect the taxpayer, including asking for additional information about your tax return.”
This is neither a new nor small problem. For example, in the past four years, the department’s increased security measures protected more than 5,000 taxpayers who confirmed their identity was stolen and used to request state of Michigan income tax refunds. This prevented more than $19.5 million from being distributed to scammers, a department press release states.
That’s a lot of people and a lot of money.
To learn more about identity theft, go to www.michigan.gov/identitytheft.
Traverse City Record Eagle. February 11, 2020
Snowmobile conditions call for caution
We love snowmobiles. They’re zippy, they’re fun — heck, with our northern Michigan winters, they’re even practical.
Also, don’t get us started about the wonders of hand-warmers or we’ll never shut up.
But a number of recent smashups show the inherent dangers in our beloved past-time.
Last Tuesday, a 42-year-old man was killed after his snowmobile struck a tree.
On Saturday, a 24-year-old man died crossing Crystal Township’s Duck Lake when he drove the sled into an island.
And close to home, a 4-snowmobile chain-reaction crash in Kalkaska County on Saturday sent three people to the hospital.
The reports use official language like “speed is possibly a factor” and “didn’t negotiate a curve” but it all adds up to things happening quickly on ice — bad things doubly so.
This winter’s freeze-thaw cycle is at a constant blip, and sporadic fluffy blankets of snow cover up potentially treacherous conditions — even for those who know the lay of the land.
More official speak — “alcohol is being investigated as a factor.”
Drinking and driving on a snowmobile is extremely dangerous, and the penalties are severe.
Two snowmobilers were arrested Feb. 2 near Gaylord on suspicion of operating while intoxicated, or OWI, after one of the sled’s skis got lodged under a railroad track.
That’s just the goings-ons in recent days.
Michigan’s fatality total is up to seven people this season.
The year before, 18 people died on snowmobiles.
We love our snowmobiles, but even though we haven’t had an abundance of snow, enjoying our past-time safely calls for an abundance of caution.