Jury can decide if confession was false

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network
The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that a murder trial on hold since 2009 will go forward without expert testimony on the phenomenon of “false confessions.” A man charged with murder in Livingston County said he is innocent of killing his brother and his sister-in-law, even though he confessed to the crimes.  
Jerome Kowalski said he was denied the right to present a defense to charges he murdered his brother and his sister-in-law in an argument over money. Kowalski confessed to the murders after multiple interrogations. But he said he is, in fact, innocent and he was compelled to make a false confession. 
A lower court judge would not allow expert testimony on the phenomenon of false confessions. She said could make it seem like the expert was saying Kowalski’s confession was false.
The Supreme Court agreed. It said lawyers may question police officers on their interrogation methods, and the jury can decide on its own whether a confession was false or coerced. 
Copyright 2012, MPRN
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Changeup underway in how state grades schools

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network
Michigan will change how it grades schools and teachers when students return to classrooms this fall. The state Department of Education has a waiver from federal rules that will let Michigan try some new things. 
State schools superintendant Michael Flanagan said some aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind Act were too punitive. Schools that don’t show enough progress will still face consequences, such as a takeover by a charter school. But Flanagan said schools and teachers will get a better shot at reaching goals set in turnaround plans. 
He said teachers will be expected to show a year of student progress, regardless of where a student starts out. 
“That’s a fair system. That’s one that teachers can own up to. They’ve been beat up a lot under the old system and this changes that.”
Flanagan said the new system will also focus more on what successful schools are up to. He said that helps build community support for public education, and allows those schools to serve as examples to others.
Copyright 2012, MPRN

Report: Michigan among the highest child poverty rates in the nation

The new national Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT data book finds more and more Michigan children living in poverty, and more and more parents having trouble finding stable employment.
“The child poverty rate went up from 19 percent in 2005, to 23 percent in 2010,” said Laura Speer with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “About four out of 10 kids in Michigan don’t have a parent who is working full-time year-around.”
According to Speer, the recession has affected children all over America, not just in the Great Lakes state.
“The fact that there’s a global recession in place, we’re sort of all feeling the repercussions,” Speer said. “But there were gains in educational attainment for kids in the United States.”
According to the report, Michigan ranks 32nd in the nation in overall child well-being.
Speer said the one place Michigan did make progress was in getting children health insurance under Medicaid, as employer benefits were cut during the recession.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which published the data, is a contributor to NPR.
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KIDS COUNT Michigan Report: 

Teachers find social and emotional skills important to learning in Pre-K and Kindergarten

BY KAITLYN CAMILLERI
Teachers report that social and emotional skills are important for children to be able to be ready for school and ready to learn.  
Skills such as self-control and following directions help children in the early ages have the confidence to do well in school.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan and its Early Childhood Behavioral Health Initiative have some suggestions for parents. 
To help prepare your child for preschool and kindergarten this fall, parents should encourage activities that require working together, and give choices to your child to make on their own.
Natalie Kasiborski is the Coordinator for the Early Childhood Behavioral Health Initiative in Northwest Michigan. 
“Social and emotional skills are important to school readiness and some of those social skills are just as important as they’re teaching those academics to facilitate a positive learning environment.”
Kasiborski said the Early Childhood Behavioral Health Initiative also provides services to parents with children ages zero to five. These services help parents track the development of their child.

Governor Awards Three Northern Michigan Volunteers

BY KAITLYN CAMILLERI
Governor Rick Snyder honored volunteers and associations from around the state with the Governor’s Service Awards last week. One of those associations is the Family Literacy Center in Lapeer. 
The center received the Outstanding Volunteer Program Award. The center offers one-on-one tutoring to improve basic skills like reading and writing. 
Mary Shelton-Wiese is the Executive Director for the Family Literacy Center.
“Well one of the most amazing accomplishments that I can point to is that in 2011, 43 of our students were able to successfully complete their GED test. And it’s really life-changing when someone is able to do that.”
The center has over one-hundred volunteers along with four employees.
In the past year, The Center has been able to teach workshops to over 16-hundred people, and tutor over five-hundred adults and 58 children. 
LeeAnn Ludwig of Mount Pleasant also received the Mentor of the year award, however she was unavailable for comment.

High Schoolers explore on Beaver Island during Biology 100

BY KAITLYN CAMILLERI
High schoolers experience a different kind of summer school at Central Michigan University’s Beaver Island Biological Station. 
The students live and attend class on the Island for three weeks, their last day was Friday. Everyday the students are out in the field for four to five hours investigating problems in our ecosystems. 
The biology one-hundred class allows students to experience what a college student in biology does. It also allows students to create relationships with others in their field. 
Dan Benjamin is the instructor for the BIO-100 class on Beaver Island.
“Students come together, they bond, they become almost family. It’s like a huge extension of my family each year, and when they leave someone of them are really kind of emotional about the departure.”
Benjamin said most of the students attend CMU afterwards. He said the students “are passionate about the environment and go on to become great performers in their fields.”
For more information on the program contact John Gordon at 989-774-4400

SoS informs Bolger, Schmidt inquiry underway

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network
State House Speaker Jase Bolger and state Representative Roy Schmidt have a little less than three weeks to respond to complaints they broke campaign finance laws. The complaints are related to a plot to keep a real Democrat off the ballot after Schmidt jumped to the Republican Party. 
One of the complaints is from the Kent County prosecutor. It said Representative Schmidt plotted to use his campaign fund to pay off a fake Democrat to be on the ballot.  The idea was to avoid a serious re-election challenge after he switched parties.
The other complaint is against Schmidt and Speaker Bolger. It said they used staff time, cell phones, and other public resources for a political purpose. It was filed by Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer.
“This whole scheme involved improper use of taxpayer resources.”
The Secretary of State sent letters to Bolger and Schmidt last week. A Bolger spokesman said no laws were broken. But the speaker does support legislation that would make what he and Schmidt tried to pull off impossible to do in the future.
Copyright 2012, MPRN