Street Talk

Street Talk: Voters need schooling

September 29, 2017
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Business Leaders for Michigan, the state’s business roundtable, released findings from a recent survey on K-12 education that show strong voter interest for greater improvement in Michigan schools.

The BLM survey, conducted by the Glengariff Group in August, showed voters approve of the job Michigan schools are doing, but they also generally approve of actions that would strengthen achievement and accountability.

“Nearly 65 percent approve of the job being done by their local schools, and a majority thinks Michigan schools perform at a level similar to schools in other states,” said Doug Rothwell, BLM president and CEO. “Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be widespread public awareness that Michigan student performance lags that of other states, resulting in three-fourths of our students graduating high school unprepared to enter the workforce or to continue their education.”

Rothwell pointed to fourth-grade reading scores that rank 46th, eighth-grade math results that rank 37th and 2016 ACT testing data showing only 23 percent of Michigan students met career- and college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects (math, English, science and reading).

“What’s alarming about these results is that they generally reflect downward trends — we’re falling behind other states," Rothwell said.

The findings come as BLM is in the midst of a major study exploring ways to improve K-12 education.

“Our members see firsthand that too many of our students graduate high school without the basic skills they need for entry-level positions, so we embarked on a study earlier this year to identify ways Michigan can close the student performance gap relative to other states,” Rothwell said. “We obviously have some work to do to raise awareness among voters of how Michigan’s education outcomes compare to other states, but the good news is that the survey shows strong support for actions that could improve student performance and strengthen accountability. For example, nearly two-thirds of voters surveyed think Michigan schools need more money, but they may be surprised to learn that Michigan ranked 11th highest in the nation for state and local spending per student in 2016.”

Rothwell said there are some paradoxes in the survey results that lead him to believe a better understanding of the state’s K-12 education system is required.

For example, by a margin of 47 to 43.1 percent, Michigan voters are split on whether they approve or disapprove of the job Michigan’s public schools as a whole are doing. This split is reflective across nearly all demographic groups. But 65.1 percent of African-American voters disapprove of the job Michigan public schools are doing, with 40.9 percent strongly disapproving.

On the other hand, by a margin of 64.5 to 29.4 percent, Michigan voters strongly approve of the job their local public school is doing.

Something from nothing?

Stock prices jumped on the release of the details of the Republican tax plan.

“In spite of its shortcomings, the Republican plan is better than no plan,” said Robert Genetski, a Saugatuck-based economist. If enacted, Genetski said it is likely to have a modestly positive impact on boosting productivity and economic growth.

“While details are sketchy, it appears the plan is to cut some taxes by $5.8 trillion and to raise other taxes by $3.6 trillion,” he said. “This produces an estimated $2.2 trillion in revenue losses over the next decade.”

A more important question is the magnitude of the tax cut over the next year or two and how does this compare to successful tax cuts in the past? The tax cuts during the Ronald Reagan era were about 2.5 percent of GDP, according to Genetski, while President Donald Trump’s proposal for $500 billion a year represents a similar magnitude to Reagan’s tax cut assuming next year’s GDP at roughly $20 trillion.

The Republican plan calls for an average of $220 billion a year over the 10-year period or less than 1 percent of the average GDP over this period, he said.

“Hence, the tax cut appears to be only one-fifth the size of either the Reagan cuts or Trump’s proposal. If, as I suspect, the cuts are front loaded to the next two years, they may be larger. These important details are not yet out.”

Genetski said he can’t predict whether the cuts would ignite 3 percent GDP growth.

“No one really knows. Our knowledge of the impact of adjusting various parts of the tax code is insufficient to answer the question. This is particularly true when the plan avoids cutting the tax on upper incomes and capital gains,” he said, adding the failure to cut upper-income tax rates and the capital gains tax is a “potential problem.”

“Almost all successful tax cuts over the past century included major cuts in both these areas. This is important because this is where the money comes from to ignite investment,” he said.

Honey buzz

It’s a sweet time of year for beekeepers at Grand Valley State University.

Last month, members of the student organization GVSU Beekeepers harvested, extracted and bottled more than 360 pounds of honey. The honey came from apiaries (collections of hives) at the Sustainable Agriculture Project on the Allendale campus and Meijer campus in Holland.

“Honeybees pollinate one-third of crops grown in the U.S.,” said Megan Damico, a senior biomedical sciences major and president of the GVSU Beekeepers. “They pollinate all kinds of produce, from citrus fruits in the south, up to apples and berries in the north, over to almonds in the west. They're key to our healthy diets.”

The honey is for sale for $8 per bottle in room 324 of Lake Ontario Hall on the Allendale campus and at the front desk at the Meijer campus in Holland, Monday through Friday.

Honeybees are disappearing, and researchers around the world, including GVSU faculty members and students, are studying the reasons why. The group is looking at honeybee habitats and health and organizing community outreach activities to educate people about the species’ importance.

Anne Marie Fauvel, affiliate faculty of liberal studies, hopes a mobile app developed at Grand Valley will shed light on honeybee health in Michigan and beyond.

The app is part of Michigan PollenCheck, a project led by Fauvel to study bee pollen to project the health of hives in Michigan. The app was developed by two Grand Valley students and computing professor Jonathan Engelsma. More than 20 beekeepers across the state have been trained to collect pollen and submit hive data via the app.

After data has been collected, Fauvel will connect with Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), a national organization that researches the mortality of honeybees.

“The app will eventually be used by beekeepers and researchers nationally,” said Fauvel, president of the Holland Area Beekeepers Association.

Michigan PollenCheck stems from another research project led by Engelsma and funded by a portion of a $2.3-million USDA grant awarded to BIP. The project focuses on collecting data from honeybee colonies using a variety of techniques and tools, including a website developed by a team of students. The website (hivescales.beeinformed.org) houses information captured by electronic scales that are installed underneath more than 150 live honeybee colonies across the country. The scales capture weight, humidity and temperature every 15 minutes.

“Every morning when the sun warms a hive, we’ll see the weight drop about four pounds as bees leave to find nectar and pollen,” Engelsma said. “Around mid-day, we see the weight increase as bees bring nectar and pollen loads back to the hive. Observing weight increases and decreases can reveal a lot about a hive; it’s healthy for a colony to gain weight, not lose it.”

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