Dec. 11 2015 12:42 PM

Dec. 11, 2015

A roundup of news from around the state, provided by our partners at Capital News Service. Follow the links for the full stories.

No easy solution for underfunded teacher pensions: The Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System has a record-high shortfall of $26.5 billion and prospects of the state closing the gap appear dim. Factors include the growth of charter and online schools, whose employees don’t pay in, and the longer lifespan of retirees.

Mandatory training proposed for security guards: Unlike many other states, Michigan doesn’t license security guards or require training, even for those who are armed, but pending legislation would close that gap. The Michigan Security Contract Association favors such a change. A senator from Evart is pushing legislation that’s passed the Senate and awaiting House action.

Push underway to expand telehealth services: Telehealth can improve access to medical care, especially in rural areas, and U.S. Sen. Peters says the federal government should do more to encourage it. Munson Healthcare in Traverse City is using telecare for cancer patients.

Phys ed cuts hit schools: The emphasis on reading, math and science has pushed class time and money away from physical education in many K-12 schools, with potential long-term negative effects on children’s health and fitness. Michigan doesn’t require phys ed for elementary and middle schoolers. Volunteers are trying to fill some of the gap, including a nonprofit that provides free yoga and nutrition classes in 15 Detroit elementary schools.

Schools face growing number of immigrant children: With immigrants continuing to arrive in Michigan from around the world, school districts are under pressure to improve chances for academic success by students who are learning English. While the Dearborn and Detroit districts have the largest proportion of students for whom English isn’t a native language, other districts face similar challenges, including Kentwood, Warren and Troy.

More services advocated for girls in juvenile justice system: The state lacks services and programs specifically for girls in the juvenile justice system, and advocates say such initiatives are necessary. Michigan has two state-run juvenile facilities in Escanaba and Grayling, one all-male and the other coed.

Students who don’t speak English fare poorly on M-Step: If you think the new M-STEP standardized test is tough for students, imagine what it’s like for those who don’t speak English as a native language.

Law enforcement agencies beef up cyber capabilities: The State Police and local law enforcement agencies are building their capacity to crack smartphone data for criminal investigations. The State Police has opened cyber units in Coldwater and Marquette.

Trust fund awards $28 million for public lands projects: The Natural Resources Trust Fund is awarding $28 million for 70 public lands projects, including ones in Manistee, Antrim and Grand Traverse counties. They were selected from 179 proposals, according to DNR. The money comes from royalties on oil and natural gas drilling on state-owned land.

Diversity in health care coming too slowly for some: More than a quarter of 2013-2014 medical school graduates from Wayne State and U-M were minorities, according to U.S. Department of Education data, and 37 percent of University of Detroit Mercy dental graduates. But the proportion of minority health professionals in Michigan continues to lag behind their proportion of state residents.

Music cuts strike inharmonious chord: The continuing financial problems confronting public schools are taking their toll on funding for K-12 music classes. The emphasis on mandatory testing for core subjects of English, math and science mean fewer resources for music. And that’s bad because the arts stimulate students’ creativity.

New maps show possible routes for nuclear waste transport: New maps from anti-nuclear groups identify the types of transportation needed to haul nuclear waste across the Great Lakes region if a national storage site opens in Nevada. They show where barges could move waste across Lake Michigan and trucks and trains could move it across the region, including waste from the Palisades plant near South Haven and the closed Big Rock Point plant near Charlevoix. The Nuclear Energy Institute counters that transporting waste would be safe.

Wildlife researchers unsure about drones: Researchers from the DNR and out-of-state agencies and organizations say drones may prove valuable for wildlife research. There are concerns, however, including uncertainty about the impact of drones on the animals being studied.

Water quality, automated cars stir interest of Michigan voters: The controversy about elevated levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water has heightened public concern about water quality across Michigan, and a new poll shows substantial majorities favoring state testing of urban water systems and at least annual tests of water in public schools. On a second environmental issue, many Michigan voters worry about road safety if driverless cars become common, but most sound resigned to their advent.