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Getting clear about "profit" in our public schools

No matter what some people say, local public schools don't make a "profit." But many charter school operators do. Is that what's best for our kids?

After years of quiet, malign neglect, the issue of profit in our public schools has become a topic of public discussion. What's the problem? The problem is that we are starting to see a separation between the "school" and the companies that run the schools and hire the people who actually teach our kids. That is where the issue of profit raises its ugly head. Because where there's profit, there's also an incentive to use the political process to create more.

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Latest on the 2018-19 School Aid budget

Michigan School Aid Budget - state of play as of May 9

[Update: versions of the budget passed by each chamber.]

State budget timeline:

  • January: top state economists meet to make tax revenue projections (Consensus Revenue Estimation Conference)
  • February: Governor proposes a budget, based on the revenue estimates
  • March-April: Legislative appropriations subcommittees develop their own alternatives; horsetrading begins
  • May: top state economists reconvene to update revenue projections, which must be used to comply with balanced budget amendment
  • May-June: Using the May projections, Governor and legislative leaders hammer out agreement on basic budget numbers; appropriations committees adjust individual bills with new numbers. "Supplemental" spending bills adjust current year budget to revised revenue projections.
  • May-June: Individual spending bills are rolled into omnibus budget bills; final horsetrading before passage and Gov's signature

After an unusually long wait, both the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on school aid issued their alternatives to the budget proposed by Gov. Snyder in February. As expected, the two legislative chambers made moves to be more generous during this election year, though the details are not always so generous. When things like that happen, it's time to check your wallet.

The table below outlines some of the most important provisions of the budget, contrasting the Governor's, House, and Senate versions. As both subcommittee chairs usually say, their alternative bills are meant to "start discussions." For parents and other concerned citizens to have a voice in that discussion, we need to know what is going on and what is at stake. Use this table to familiarize yourself with the alternatives and then join the discussion with gusto. There's lots to choose from.

Things to note:

  • Diversions from the School Aid Fund to the community college and higher education budgets, which used to be covered by the general state budget before Gov. Snyder took office, represent almost $800 million or roughly $535 per pupil in lost K-12 funding;
  • House and Senate both commit to giving for-profit cyber charters the same funding as regular schools;
  • House continues the controversial payments to private schools for "state mandates" like background checks and fire drills;
  • House and Senate also continue to fund several "pet projects" of dubious merit; House confers a blessing on a particular preschool curriculum published by a for-profit company.

This is your government at work! But ask yourself: who, precisely, are they working for?

Don't be fooled by the pension smokescreen

The REAL issue here is that these bills would hang a $46 BILLION millstone around the necks of our public schools for the next four decades. And if recent budget moves are any indication, that cost will be borne solely by the students and staff of our "traditional" local public schools.

By the numbers: how the school aid budget proposals affect students

[With corrected data] Each year, we try to bring some clarity to the school aid budget debate by showing how it affects students around the state. How many students are going to receive how much of an increase (or cut)? How many students will have their school's funding keep up with inflation? How do the proposals shake out for low-income students in particular? The graphs attached to this article are one way of trying to answer that question.

Budget update: the perils of plenty

The state's top economists met last week to forecast state tax revenues for the next fiscal year, and they found both good and bad news. On the good side, projected revenues to the state School Aid Fund were higher than previous estimates, making some $153 million more available for the current fiscal year than estimated in January. Estimated revenues for next year (fiscal 2018) were also revised upward, adding almost $190 million to projected revenues, mainly on the strength of higher sales tax collections.

Got Jargon? Technical terms defined

The education funding and policy world in Michigan is filled with jargon and technical terms that make the whole subject confusing for non-specialists. We'll use this document to try to clarify some of those terms for parents who want to gain a better understanding of the K-21 policy debates in our state.  

Letter to US Senate on DeVos nomination for USED

Dear Chairman Alexander and members of the Committee,

We write to you today, on behalf of thousands of parent advocates across the State of Michigan, regarding the nomination of Mrs. Betsy DeVos to serve as United States Secretary of Education. Unfortunately, we cannot support Mrs. DeVos' nomination and ask that the Committee vote not to confirm her for the post.

As advocates for strong local public education in the State of Michigan, we have considerable experience with Mrs. DeVos' priorities and efforts in the field of public education. Sadly, her priorities do not match those of the people of Michigan and her efforts have not been in the best interests of our school-age children.

Interesting times

Dear Friends,

We are clearly living in interesting times. Last week's election results were completely unanticipated by polls and most pundits. As a result, this is a time of great uncertainty as we all strive to understand where events are likely to take us.

Inside:

  • Washington turmoil
  • Upcoming issues in Lansing
  • Please support MIPFS!

While many issues have been grabbing headlines in the last few days, our responsibility is to monitor education policy and that is why I am writing you today.

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DPS restructuring plans: Darn the people, full speed ahead!

[UPDATED with House-passed plan] After many years under state control - fourteen of the last seventeen - Detroit Public Schools has reached a critical juncture: the district and its emergency management projects that it will run out of money to operate its schools before the end of the current school year. Politicos of all stripes have known this day was coming, and there have been competing proposals on what to do about it. Last year, a coalition of Detroit leaders, parents and citizens - many of them bitter enemies - sat down and hammered out a compromise document that might lead the city’s schools out of the crisis. [See plan comparisons below.] It was a tenuous compromise, with many details remaining to be worked out (and some coalition members have a deep concern that local voices were not in fact heard). But it was a blueprint grudgingly accepted by the people on the spot. The reaction in Lansing? Dismissive statements and knowing smiles. A locally-developed plan wasn’t “on their agenda.”

Any of this sound familiar? Perhaps it bears some resemblance to how the people of Flint were treated when they complained about being poisoned by their municipal water supply? The underlying cause is the same: in both the executive branch and the legislature, what “the people” really want doesn’t matter half as much as what these exalted folks think is best for us, based on their own ideology or technocratic worldview. Detroit may be the most visible example right now, but as Flint proves, it was not the first and - unless we stand together - it will not be the last.

Legislative update: State control worked so well, let's do it again!

Dear Friends,
 

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