The students at Hartland High School have been spending some of their school time in the bus garage checking for proper tire pressure, educating younger students about Earth Day and participating in various other "green" or "eco-friendly" programs, according to a memo from the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. The Hartland example was one inspiration for a 2006 law that created Michigan government's "Green School" designation, and for Senate Bill 904 — an expansion of the program that recently sailed through the Michigan Senate with a unanimous 37-0 vote and now awaits attention from the Michigan House.
The 2006 law was created to allow government to convey official recognition to schools with green programs that create "an awareness of the importance of protecting the natural resources critical to making Michigan a desirable place to live and do business." The original law sets forth 20 options for fulfilling the designation criteria and stipulates that a school seeking recognition must implement 10 of them. In addition to having students check bus tire pressure, dust coils on cafeteria refrigerators and caulk school windows, a few of the other criteria include having a "solar cookout"; observing Earth Day in some way; creating an "ecology club" that installs furnace filters, dusts refrigerator coils and caulks windows for senior citizens; hosting a visit by a representative of the Sierra Club; and visiting Web sites where "clicking saves rainforest habitat."
The 2006 proposal sailed through the Michigan House, then controlled by Republicans, with only four Republicans voting against it. This prompted Diane Katz, former director of science, environment and technology policy for the Mackinac Center, to warn that dubious environmentalist indoctrination was then being encouraged at schools across the country, even though "[f]ew states or school districts have actually evaluated the veracity and impartiality of environmental curricula."
Katz suggested that the Republican-led Senate should ignore the legislation, but the chamber soon voted unanimously to approve it. It was signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm on May 21, 2006.
The Senate Fiscal Agency reports that 18 schools participated in the first year of the program and that by December 2009, the participation rate had increased to over 500 schools. Senate Bill 904 would modify and expand the program by creating three gradations of "environmental stewardship" designations. "Green School" would still apply for those completing 10 criteria activities, "Emerald School" would be reserved for those completing 15, and "Evergreen School" awards would belong to schools that implemented 20.
The new bill would modify much of the existing qualifying criteria and add new items such as: "Participating in a local community environmental issue by activities such as letter-writing, attending public hearings, raising funds, or community outreach."
Michael Van Beek, the Mackinac Center's director of education policy, suggests a different policy change for lawmakers to consider.
"Eighth grade math students in at least 36 other states now outscore Michigan kids on national tests, and our students are behind 33 other states for reading," noted Van Beek. "Perhaps the state should create a 'Simply School' designation for schools that avoid these distractions and get back to their core mission."
Senate Bill 904 is sponsored by Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, and is now in the House Great Lakes and Environment Committee, chaired by Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor.
Contact information for all Michigan lawmakers can be found on here.An earlier version of this story, complete with hyperlinks to the roll call votes and bill descriptions, is available at www.MichCapCon.com/12090.