For a while, it was gratifying that school funding issues took center stage in the recent election for Michigan's governor. Unfortunately, the amount of spin and, well, dishonesty, left the situation more confusing than before. Now that the election is over, our choices about school funding need to be based on facts, not confusion.
Here are three basic facts that everyone needs to understand. The evidence for them is indisputable:
Starting with the 2012 fiscal year, the Governor and Legislature together took away roughly $1 billion that would normally have gone to K-12 education.
Schools took a major cut that first year, but they didn't have to: the tax cuts that year made the school cuts necessary.
The slow growth in school funding since that first year had nothing to do with the Governor or Legislature or any decisions they made. It was all automatic.
"Come again?" you might say. That's not what we were hearing from all the campaign commercials. But it's the reality we need to come to terms with. So let's go over it in a little more detail. (Go to article >>>)
Let me tell you a little story about the Mitten & Rabbit. Some twenty years ago, the people of the Mitten (and their northern cousins in the Rabbit) were convinced to try an experiment: to see if they could make their public schools better by introducing competition. At the same time, they also wanted to make sure schools were funded adequately and more fairly than in the past. So the leaders of the Mitten passed laws and made changes to get the experiment started, and they expected that future leaders would closely follow the experiment to see how it was working, and make
corrections as needed.
Times changed, the economy worsened, and newer, less experienced, leaders of the Mitten were more concerned about making things cost less than about making them work well. Competition, it turned out, was rigged and didn't help schools improve so much as it allowed some new players to make a profit while existing schools struggled. Funding that was generous in the beginning failed to keep up with rising costs, but leaders were afraid to ask the people to pay more for their community's schools - or to let them do it themselves. And after twenty years, no one had had the courage to see if the experiment was really living up to its promises. The children of the Mitten were the ones who lost the most from this downhill slide, but then they don't vote (or make campaign contributions).
familiar? That's where we find ourselves today. The experiment with competition has not made schools better or stronger; it has taken the public voice out of many supposedly "public" schools and lined the pockets of a few investors. Many people have been conned into believing that you can make schools better by starving them of resources. And as any magician knows, the key to a good trick is to get people to focus their attention somewhere else. (Cont'd...)
Proposals for organization & funding of K-12 education in Michigan
Prepared for State Board of Education, 13 May 2014
Pres. Austin, Supt. Flanagan, and members of the Board:
Michigan parents value their local public schools and appreciate the hard work being done by all those who bring life to public education. No institution is perfect, and local public education is no exception. But parents are painfully aware of the struggles faced by our schools, driven in part by policy decisions at the state level - which have reduced our direct investment in K-12 education - and in part by changes in the Michigan economy, which have put our families and communities under tremendous stress.
Michigan public education is not "broken;" it has weathered tremendous blows over the last 15 years that have reduced its ability to serve all students as well as we want it to. Any proposals to change the structure and funding of our public schools must address this fundamental fact. >>>>Click below to read more
Strategies to turn around troubled schools need to address specific local challenges and be owned by the local school and district community
With the recent push to pass a bill on the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) before the winter 2013 legislative break, it’s more important than ever that parents start talking about real alternatives that work. For the last year, MIPFS has worked with parent groups, educational leaders and lawmakers to develop a positive program that will actually help struggling schools. This article outlines our proposal.
Existing law does not provide enough assistance to local schools in diagnosing and solving their difficulties. To compound the problem, the law provides for complete state takeover as the only remedy for schools which fail to improve. The parents’ alternative is based on these core ideas:
Any effective school improvement strategy must focus on the particular circumstances of the school or district that is a candidate for intervention, and be tailored to address local needs and shortcomings.
Diagnosis of educational problems is best done by experienced and disinterested specialists, but the solutions to those problems will be most durable if they are hammered out and implemented by all relevant stakeholder groups.
Unilateral state intervention must be a last resort, and must be focused solely on implementing the changes identified as necessary in the independent review.
The goal of state intervention for school improvement is not to take over management of the school but to identify and see implemented educational and organizational changes, which are critical to the long-term growth of student achievement.
MIPFS and affiliated groups’ statement on the latest “skunk works” revelations
The evidence is piling up that the Snyder administration was closely involved in the effort to construct an alternative “education” system whose top priority is to minimize public school costs, not improve education. According to emails obtained by the Detroit News, top advisers to Gov. Snyder helped put the so-called “skunk works” group together or approved of its creation as early as September 2012.
From the parent perspective, one of the most disturbing discoveries was a statement by Gov. Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore. “Frankly, there’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing the education community in a fratz,” Muchmore wrote not long after the “skunk works” story first broke.
Thousands of parents, educators, and other concerned citizens who care about quality public education expressed their outrage at the secrecy and narrow vision of the “skunk works” project. Since when did we become the enemy? What kind of distorted lens must members of the Snyder administration be using that they see in concerned parents an opponent to be overcome rather than a constituency to be heard?
We released this open letter on the occasion of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s visit to southeast Michigan. Sec. Duncan visited two schools in Detroit, one of them an EAA school, and the Perry Child Development Center in Ypsilanti. Our letter points out the conflict between the educational values Sec. Duncan has espoused, and which are the foundation of Perry’s High/Scope model, and the urgent direction of education policy in Michigan.
Open Letter to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Dear Secretary Duncan,
On behalf of Michigan parents and others concerned about public education here, I would like to welcome you to our state. Michigan is home to some of the best ideas and programs in education as well as some of the most serious challenges our schools, and communities, face. We welcome your effort to learn more about the hopes we cherish and the obstacles we confront in our local efforts to educate our children.
Unfortunately, I fear that your tour may leave you with an incorrect impression of what is in fact happening in our state. The current direction of state policy is not to offer an excellent education to all children. Instead, key Michigan policy makers have adopted an extremely narrow and barren notion of “education” and have focused on how to deliver it at the lowest cost possible. These proposals take us in precisely the wrong direction.
MIPFS response to House Bill 5112, the proposed A-F grading system for Michigan public schools, 13 November 2013
Madam Chair and members of the Committee,
Thank you for giving us this opportunity to share with you parent perspectives on evaluating our schools. While this letter mainly speaks to HB 5112, some later comments are also relevant to HB 5111. Other witnesses have discussed the details of the proposed evaluation system, so we do not address them here, except to point out that what we measure indicates what we value, and everyone--parents and citizens alike--value a much wider range of things about our schools than just test scores in two or three subjects. Test scores can tell us a little, but we really need to know more.
That is really the key to our perspective: any effort to sum up the "quality" of a school in one letter grade or color code does not help parents much at all. In fact, letter grades can be even more misleading because they prompt a "gut" reaction even though we might not be sure what they truly mean or measure. "Grading on a curve," specifying the relative percentage of school to receive each grade makes it worse, with the number of top and bottom grades pre-determined.
Rather than early warning of a nuclear strike, a package of bills now before the Michigan Senate aim to give early warning of a school district in financial distress - a "deficit early warning" system, if you will. But if our lawmakers truly want an early warning, they should simply ask the parents, teachers and staff of our schools what they have been forced to do by Michigan's persistent failure to invest in public education.
These bills escalate the penalties for districts in financial difficulty - and layer on reporting requirements that seem primarily aimed at placing blame on the locals - while completely failing to acknowledge that districts might be in distress because of the actions of the Legislature. The bill package continues the neat shift of blame: the Legislature and Governor make the decisions about school funding, but the responsibility for cutting programs and opportunities available to our children is left for local school boards to shoulder.
At base, there are two competing stories about what is happening to our schools, and one of them is driving these bills forward.
[I drafted the message below for Parents Across America, the national parent advocacy group of which MIPFS is a state affiliate. We thought it would also be appropriate to publish it here, as a reminder of why strong community-governed public schools are so important.]
As we think of the tragic death at police hands of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., our first reaction must be as parents: sorrow and anger. Sorrow because a promising life has been cut so cruelly short, and anger because his death was both unnecessary and sickeningly predictable.
Watching from outside, however, we have also seen in Ferguson problems that plague our nation still.
Now that the state budget process is in its final stages, a final School Aid budget is only days away. There will be very little time to discuss it once it's made public, so it's important for parents to weigh in now.
While we don't know what the proposal will look like, we do have the different versions proposed by the Governor and passed by the House and Senate. What we find there does not make us very optimistic.
Virtually all the Governor's advertised "$150 million" increase in student funding comes from money that will be left over from this year because there were fewer students than expected. This is true of the other versions, also.
Under the Senate and House plans, charter schools receive significantly larger increases, on average, than local school districts. In fact, the Senate plan would give charters almost $100 per pupil more on average.
Under the Senate plan, 340,000 students, including 110,000 living in poverty, would get the lowest possible increases in funding.
Most districts would fail to keep up with inflation under any of these plans. The Senate plan is again the most extreme: over half a million students (almost half of them living in poverty) would not have their funding keep up with inflation.
To top it all off, predictions for revenues next year are lower than they were when these plans were written. That can't be good news.