Make wise choices for a successful school year

In many districts, school is now back in session. This can mean welcome relief to harried parents and a time of adjustment for their children as they settle back into the old routine.

The first priority for the new school year — for parents, students and drivers — is that our students make it safely to and from school.

For kids riding the bus there are three main points to remember: 1) Wait until the bus has come to a complete stop and the doors are open before stepping into the roadway; 2) never put your head, arms or hands out of the bus window; and 3) when crossing the street, STOP, look left, then right and then left again before crossing.

For all drivers, remember two critical rules when around a school bus: 1) If the yellow overhead lights are flashing, be prepared to stop; and 2) if the red lights are flashing, STOP, and remain stopped until the red flashing lights are turned off and the school bus begins moving.

Once safety has been established, children are ready to learn.

Success depends on several factors in the home. First, parents must create a home environment that encourages learning. Second, they should communicate high, yet reasonable, expectations for their children’s achievement and future careers. And finally, parents need to be involved in their children’s education at school and in the community.

Make time to help and support your children. For further assistance in this area, the Michigan Department of Education has many useful resources available on its website at The “Parent Engagement” section offers numerous links and information that can be tremendously helpful.

Ensure your children get plenty of sleep, arrive to school on time, complete their homework and eat healthy meals. Build up your children’s self-confidence with positive reinforcement and encouragement. These foundations are as essential as anything else in ensuring academic success.

Keep in mind that the choices that we as parents make — as well as the ones our kids make — are the most important factors in determining success in school. So make the right choices, and have a fantastic school year!

Back to school - bus safety

2016 accomplishments – First 6 months

As June comes to a close, it’s a great time to look back at the achievements we’ve made so far in 2016.

For starters, let’s remember how far we’ve come. Under Republican leadership, Michigan has added more than 450,000 private sector jobs and our state unemployment rate dropped below the national average for the first time since August 2000.

In fact, at 4.7 percent, Michigan’s unemployment rate has been cut in half since January 2011, is at its lowest rate in 15 years, and is more than 10 points lower than it was in June 2009.

It’s no surprise then, that the PEW Charitable Trusts declared Michigan as “maybe the biggest success story” in the nation.

Let’s look at what we’ve accomplished in the first six months of 2016…

For the sixth year in the row, the Senate Republicans passed a fiscally responsible budget months ahead of schedule that maintains our positive momentum, ensures we live within our means and continues our unwavering support of public education.

We have always led the fight for greater funding for our local schools and more choice in education.

In fact, Michigan is investing more this year on K-12 education than ever in state history. The finalized Fiscal Year 2017 budget directs more than $14 billion to education — increasing support by more than $260 million and paying down more than $1 billion in school retirement costs, which will help schools put additional dollars into the classroom.

Senate Republicans acted promptly to the Flint water crisis and appropriated more than $211 million in much needed emergency relief to address the immediate health needs of the people of Flint, as well as putting another $74.6 million in the new budget.

We believe in the sanctity of life. It’s a tragedy when a child dies, and no one should profit from the trafficking of human fetal remains. We put an end to that horrific practice in 2016 with the signing of Senate Bills 564 and 565.

In 2016, we stood up for our heroes — securing more funding to assist homeless veterans and create a new Veterans Home Ombudsman to ensure our veterans receive the proper care they earned serving our nation.

We also helped encourage more parents to take their children outdoors, by guaranteeing free access to state boating access sites and certain state parks during the state’s two free fishing weekends.

While we accomplished much already in 2016, the Michigan Senate Republicans remain committed to working tirelessly to build upon these successes and continue to improve our state for future generations.

Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week

Michigan residents of all ages have had teachers who have made a positive impact in their lives.

The overwhelming majority of teachers do it because of their love of education. They demand excellence from their students and challenge them to reach their full potential.

Not only do teachers teach us what to learn, they teach us how to learn. They open doors to new worlds and inspire us to achieve goals that we might not have thought possible. The job of a teacher is not easy, and it takes a special person to be one. Teachers are unsung heroes.

Teachers are unsung heroes, and Teacher Appreciation Week offers us a time to celebrate the impact they have had on all of our lives. It is a chance to recognize the hard work our teachers perform every day and to thank them for everything they do to help us prepare for a successful future.

We sat down with a few Senate Republicans as they talked about their favorite teachers. Above are the thoughts of Sen. Mike Kowall.

By clicking on the following senator’s names, you can also see teacher appreciation videos from Sen. Peter MacGregor, Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Sen. Mike Nofs.

Promoting financial literacy for students

One of the top priorities of Senate Republicans is to make sure that our children receive a quality education. After all, they are the future of our state.

A key part of our education system should be ensuring students are financially literate. We’ve seen what happens when people make bad financial decisions in the wake of the 2008 mortgage crisis.

That’s why learning how to budget and manage personal finances early in life can pay big dividends down the road — and keep people from making poor financial decisions that have wide-reaching impact.

Last year, the Michigan Senate unanimously approved legislation, now Public Act 186 of 2015, to allow schools to include a financial literacy component as part of the semester of economics required to earn a high school diploma. Understanding the basic principles involved with earning, spending, saving, borrowing and investing will help students acquire the skills they need to make sound financial decisions later in life.

And the best part of this law is that schools will not have to spend money developing the material; a model curriculum for youth financial education is already available from the Michigan Department of Education.

Making sure our students enter the world with a basic understanding of how to make financial decisions makes us all better off. Ensuring the financial literacy of Michigan’s youth without dumping a financial burden on the taxpayers will only make our state’s future stronger.

Bills would cut unnecessary red tape for schools

A dozen Senate Republicans, led by Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, introduced legislation this year to reduce red tape for schools.

Senate Bills 754-767 are vitally important because the hundreds of reports that Michigan school districts are mandated to prepare and submit to state and federal entities can be time-consuming and tedious to produce and are often redundant or even obsolete by the submission date.

Education reporting requirements are sprinkled throughout Michigan law, not just in the state’s education code, and these reports are costly, often taking a great deal of staff time and resources.

The bills would eliminate unnecessary and redundant reports and streamline reporting requirements. This will direct valuable school resources toward the classroom — rather than Lansing — and provide educators with more time to focus on student achievement.

Superintendents across the state have applauded the legislation.

“This package of bills will empower schools by eliminating barriers to improving student achievement,” said Warren Consolidated Schools Superintendent Robert D. Livernois. “By eliminating unnecessary and redundant reports, local schools can spend more time helping teachers teach and kids learn.”

The bills are before the Senate Education Committee, which has heard testimony in support of the legislation.

Brad Biladeau, the Michigan Association of School Administrators associate executive for government relations, said that “this is something our members have been concerned about for quite some time. There are more reports than there are school days for school districts. We’ve heard from school districts that have hired or designated individuals whose sole function is to respond to these state and federal reports.”

If passed and signed into law, SBs 754-767 will enable teachers to spend more time and energy doing what they were hired to do: teach their students. And that will improve education throughout Michigan and enrich the lives of all Michiganders.

Horn Hometown Tour: Flushing Community Schools

Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, continued his 2016 Hometown Tour series last week with a stop in Flushing for an inside look at Flushing Community Schools. Horn spent the morning touring various locations in the school district — meeting administrators, educators and students.

In honor of March is Reading Month, Horn was able to stop at two of Flushing’s elementary schools. Horn read to second- and fourth-grade classes at Central Elementary and two fourth-grade classes at Elms Elementary. In addition to reading to students, he also took questions from the kids and discussed the duties of a legislator.

The next stop was Flushing Middle School. Horn visited both a seventh-grade social studies class and an eighth-grade American history class, where he discussed the benefit and importance of a politically informed and involved populous. Students also had the chance to ask questions relating to the life and responsibilities of being a state senator. Horn also had an opportunity to serve lunch and meet with students as they ate, and be interviewed in the school’s media room by two students.

Horn made his final stop at Flushing High School to visit the eleventh-grade American government class. They discussed the upcoming changes the students will be experiencing in life and why it is important to exercise their civic duties. He also discussed the cost of college, the state’s role in such costs and other ways that government will begin to play a role in their lives as they finish up their careers at Flushing Community Schools and continue on their journey in life.

March is National Reading Month

Reading is vital to a successful education and lays the foundation to a rewarding future. Learning to read at a young age has been shown to increase a student’s ability to remember facts, comprehend information and be successful in both school and his or her career.

March is celebrated as National Reading Month as a time to encourage children to pick up a book and read.

To help promote the importance of reading, Senate Republican members will travel throughout the Great Lakes State to read with Michigan students in classrooms from Monroe to Marquette.

For 2016, senators recorded short videos about March is Reading Month — sharing their favorite books with viewers and encouraging adults to read with kids to help develop good reading habits.

Nearly one in six children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.

Literacy is perhaps the most important factor to achieving successful futures.

The Senate Republicans encourage parents to join in the effort to help children succeed through reading. A simple way parents can help is by picking up a book and reading to their children each night.

As we celebrate National Reading Month, let’s strive to achieve the important goals of engaging our children about reading and opening their eyes to new worlds and adventures.

The Importance and Impact of Career and Technical Education in Michigan

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month is about raising public awareness on the crucial role that CTE programs have in preparing our students for success.

With much of the U.S. economy evolving to a new era of advanced technologies, CTE programs have become essential to the economic success of future generations. In fact, eight out of 10 of the nation’s most sought after employees are ones with degrees related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Senate Republicans have continually focused on legislation that promotes STEM education in Michigan. Available STEM-related jobs continue to increase — illustrating the importance CTE programs will have in our educational system in the decades to come. Since 2010, the growth rate of STEM employment in Michigan has outpaced the growth seen in all other occupational employment, and this trend is expected to continue through 2020.

Studies have shown a correlation between CTE participants and a higher probability of receiving some form of education beyond high school. In fact, of all the 2012 Michigan high school graduates who participated in one or more CTE programs, 76.4 percent have continued on with their education beyond high school.

Senate Republicans have recognized the importance of both CTE and STEM education, which have an immediate and positive impact on those students who choose to participate in them, and we will continue to focus on legislation encouraging these programs.

Building off Public Acts 208 and 209 of 2014 — which grant students more ample opportunities to participate in CTE programs by expanding upon “cross-walking” credits and revising some of the high school graduation requirements — Senate Republicans have been hard at work to give Michigan students an edge being successful in their future careers.

Led by Sens. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, and Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, the Senate Republicans have passed several bills this past year including Senate Bill 491, which would make it easier for professionals with expertise in certain fields to become effective classroom teachers, and SBs 169 and 170 that would allow students to receive a STEM certification on their high school diplomas to showcase to universities and businesses their accomplishments and capabilities.

For more information about CTE and what it can mean for you or your children, please visit to learn more.

Remarking on the 2016 State of the State address

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, commented on Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2016 State of the State address:

“I commend Governor Snyder for his attention to the public health crisis in Flint. As a father and a grandfather, I am dismayed by the failures that resulted in this crisis and the risk it poses to the children of this community. The families of Flint deserve our full attention and the Senate is ready to assist the governor to address these concerns.

“The crisis in Flint demonstrates a need for greater accountability and reforms to our state government systems. Bloated, unresponsive bureaucracy does not meet the needs of our citizens. Over the past few years the Senate Republicans have worked to improve state government, but clearly there is more work to be done. The citizens of Michigan deserve a responsive, competent team of employees and administrators that value accountability, safety and customer service above red tape.

“The job of government at all levels is to respond to constituents. As the customer complaint window for state government, legislative offices hear from citizens day-in and day-out who need help navigating bureaucracy. The Senate Republicans are eager to pursue ways to improve state government and ensure safety and accountability for our citizens. Like many people throughout our state and the country, I look forward to hearing more about a solution for the people of Flint.

“This year, the Senate is poised to tackle reform of our state’s largest school district. The children of Detroit have spent too much time in an education system that does not give them the tools necessary to be successful adults and citizens. The bottom line is, the families in Detroit and across Michigan deserve access to quality education choices.

“The Senate, House, governor, city leadership, elected officials, education professionals, community stakeholders and parents must all share in the responsibility of reforming Detroit Public Schools. While the Legislature can work to resolve the balance sheet, the active participation of the citizens and leaders of Detroit is critical to the long-term success of the students and the vitality of the city’s neighborhoods.

“Detroit’s turnaround will be for not if the children of that great city do not graduate high school, are not prepared for learning at our universities and are not competitive in today’s job market.

“The challenges in Detroit Public Schools are not entirely unique to that district. Many school districts are burdened by financial stress and a changing educational environment. My colleagues and I in the Senate will look more closely at potential reforms related to legacy costs. No student should be short-changed of dollars entering the classroom because of an unsustainable retirement system and mounting debt.

“These major issues bring about larger questions about system failures. The governor has not shied away from tackling the tough issues facing our state and his remarks tonight demonstrate accountability and forward action to help the citizens of Flint and Michigan.

“The Senate Republicans are prepared for another year of working with the governor, our colleagues in the House and members on the other side of the aisle to continue to improve Michigan and reform state government.”

Supporting our students, ensuring teacher effectiveness

Senate Republicans have finalized legislation to require Michigan schools to base certain percentages of their teacher and administrator evaluations on student growth and assessment data.

Senate Bill 103 also affords school districts the flexibility to decide on their own evaluation tool to ensure student success and growth. No two schools are the same, and emphasizing local metrics helps fit individual district needs.

SB 103 is another example of smart, commonsense legislation under Senate Republican leadership. It creates accountability for both the student and the teacher to deliver the best classroom learning environment possible, and ensures we have the best teachers in our classrooms.

Strong leadership matters.