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"Brother, can you spare a dime?"

Here at MIPFS, we have always argued that private giving to our public schools can be an important way for communities to take back the destiny of their school systems. But we also insist that private giving cannot, and should not, replace our common responsibility to see to the education of our communities' children. Evidently some of our state legislators do not quite agree. Enter "SB 1479":http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2008-SB-1479, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Cassis (R-Novi), which would create a "checkbox" on our state income tax returns allowing us to make a contribution to the state School Aid Fund, just as we can now to support non-game wildlife and public campaign funding. The bill moved rapldly through the Senate Finance Committee (chaired by Cassis) and is now awaiting action on the Senate floor. It may seem a small thing, but do not underestimate the symbolic importance of this bill. In one stroke, the School Aid Fund, which dwarfs the state's General Fund budget and distributes over $11 billion each year to school systems across the state, would be cast in the role of a charity, with hat in hand asking for *voluntary* individual donations. Thus, a public responsibility dating to the earliest days of the republic is transformed symbolically into a private matter. Is there anything _wrong_ with having the checkbox on our tax returns? Certainly not - our schools can use the help. Senator Cassis describes the checkbox (and similar proposals to benefit the state's general fund and higher education) as a way of raising revenue without raising taxes. But the likely proceeds of the tax form checkoff would be a drop in the bucket compared to the persistent strain faced by the School Aid Fund as the state's economy deteriorates. The state had to _take back_ money from our schools twice in the last seven years, and the legislature only avoided doing so again one year ago by engaging in some very creative accounting. Overall spending on K-12 public education in Michigan has barely kept pace with inflation since 1994, while many key costs (like health care) have been increasing much faster. Lawmakers have strugged in recent years to figure out how to spread a rapidly dwindling amount of butter on the same slice of bread. Is this how we as a state deliver on our responsibility to educate our children? Now let us cast our eyes to the other side of the Capitol, where "HB 6128":http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2008-HB-6128 and "HB 6129":http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2008-HB-6129, both proposed by Rep. Kim Meltzer (R-Clinton Twp.), await a vote to discharge them from committee. HB 6128 repeals the state's Real Estate Transfer Tax, a levy charged on all real estate transactions, the proceeds of which are earmarked entirely for the School Aid Fund. The intent of the bill is to assist Michigan's ailing housing sector. But the shortfall must be made up somehow, and that is where HB 6129 comes in: it fills the hole that would be left in this year's school aid budget with a $211 million transfer from the state's general fund. Of course, even after the 11th hour increase in income taxes last fall, the General Fund budget is barely in balance this year, and is expected to be short some $300 million next year. It is not at all clear where the extra $211 million will come from. Perhaps a checkoff box could help with this, too?
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