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Education Reporter

Michigan Tobacco-Funds Program Sparks Controversy

Rep. Gosselin
Rep. Gosselin
LANSING, MI - A new scholarship program funded by tobacco settlement money is sending shock waves throughout the state of Michigan. The "Merit Scholarship Awards" are college scholarships of up to $3000 that will be given to students who receive a qualifying score on the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) test.

The scholarship program adds yet another controversial dimension to the 10-year-old MEAP because it designates the test as the only means by which students can qualify for the awards. Parents, teachers, and some legislators fear that the test will necessarily influence curriculum development decisions by virtually every public, private, religious, and homeschool in the state.

"The beliefs and values this test propagates are those of its authors," asserts State Representative Robert M. Gosselin (R). "These are left-wing, liberal, 'politically correct' lifetime government employees, insulated from and hostile to the private sector and the basic tenets of traditional American civilization."

Rep. Gosselin protested the passage of the scholarship bill on the floor of the Michigan House, warning that it would reverse a 1995 policy decision barring the state from requiring public schools to adopt a particular curriculum. "It is bad public policy for the state to insert itself into public schools' curriculum development decisionmaking," he said. "By offering parents a $3000 bribe which can be attained only if their children take a government sponsored, politically-controlled test, the state is now imposing the curriculum necessary to pass the test on private, religious, and homeschools as well."

Gosselin offered an amendment that would grant the scholarship to students who do not take the MEAP but who do well on a nationally-recognized college admissions test. Though a number of Republican legislators initially supported the amendment, only three resisted the arm twisting from Republican Governor John Engler's office and voted for it in the end. Gosselin later called the amendment's defeat by just three votes "a tragedy." He was the only Republican to vote no on the final passage of the bill.

Though Gosselin and his allies were able to remove the social studies portion of the MEAP, which "deals with the politics of race and gender, campaign finance reform, opposition to capital punishment," and "other political topics popular on the left," from the scholarship test, they concede that it was a hollow victory. "The reading and math portions are really just as bad as the social studies," one conservative Republican staffer told Education Reporter.

Rep. Gosselin says the content of the MEAP tests "provide ample justification for relying on tests developed in the private sector to assess the academic achievement of Michigan's students."

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