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School Aid budget goes to Snyder

Just before the Legislature left for its summer break, lawmakers approved the education and general government budgets and sent them to the Governor for his signature. The final school aid budget, one section of the education omnibus budget bill that also covers community colleges and higher education, had a few important differences with the previous negotiated compromise. Unfortunately, it also includes several items added by the legislature though not wanted, or struck out, in the governor's original request.

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.

Education is not like toothpaste

Will market competition really improve education?

As the policy debates over education “reform” continue, some of the key underlying issues – competing worldviews – are starting to emerge clearly. The first public introduction, last July, of Governor Snyder’s advisory panel on the school funding law provided one perspective (see upcoming article). They view their charge as making sure money follows the student, and their work relies on the idea that competition among many different kinds of education “providers” will result in the best outcomes.

Another perspective was offered in a blog post by noted education historian Diane Ravitch. In her post, she reprinted a reader’s comment which decried the “reform” direction of treating schools like businesses. In this model, schools that succeed will continue; those which fail to attract students will be shut down. The comment emphasized the personal and community cost of closing schools and rending relationships.

These differing views nicely bracket one of the essential conflicts underlying the whole school “reform” debate. The conflict is this: what system produces better outcomes – community decision-making, or market competition? The answer, of course, depends a lot on what kind of outcome you are trying to get.

Special sections: 

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

Dear Friends,
 

First look: Snyder FY16-17 school aid budget

It's February, and as most of you know that means it's Budget time in Lansing. (You were thinking hearts and chocolate?)

Governor Rick Snyder presented his recommended budget last week to a packed room. The focus, not surprisingly, was on the water crisis in Flint and the restructuring of Detroit Public Schools. But the budget determines what kind of education can be offered to every child in the state, and the important bits are often in the details. At first glance, parent advocates have reason to be modestly pleased, though the reality is not as pretty as the picture painted on the cover. What happens in the end, however, depends on what comes out after the document has been reflected in the legislative funhouse mirrors - which may or may not resemble the original.

A little bit more
The governor's executive budget recommendation is headlined by a modest increase in per-pupil funding. Districts at the current minimum level of $7,391 - which includes some 60% of all students - would receive $120 more per pupil for their general operating needs. Districts at or above the state maximum (currently $778 higher or $8,169) would get an increase of $60 per pupil.

For most students, then, that means a funding increase of 1.6% - just a tad more than the projected inflation rate of 1.2%. But a goodly number of students will get a smaller relative increase: 0.7% or less, lagging inflation.

Detroit: thin end of the wedge

Governor Rick Snyder's proposal to restructure Detroit Public Schools is carefully framed to emphasize delivering a quality education to underserved children and careful management of finances. But as with so many education policies these days, which claim to focus on the needs of "children, not adults," the reality is quite different.

To no one's great surprise, his plan bears little resemblance to the plan put forward by a broad-based coalition of Detroit stakeholders issued just weeks ago. Instead, the Governor's plan bundles together a number of policy tools which have been spectacular failures when used separately. Perhaps we are to embrace the notion that, in Michigan, three wrongs do make a right?

Lame Duck 2014: the Final Quack

Wow. That was quite a ride. The state legislature's "lame duck" session ended early Friday morning, with final passage of the complex road funding compromise legislation coming at 5:30am after many hours of frantic negotiation and maneuvering. The road funding package includes some measures which will give meaningful help to public schools, including a net $500 million in new money available for K-12.

Even more important is the list of school-related legislation which did not pass; these measures will have to be reintroduced in the next session to move forward. Teacher and administrator evaluation, A-F school rating, 3rd grade flunking, EAA expansion, and the deficit "early warning" package all failed to become law.

Our story, Part II: Michigan's new "DEW" line

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.

Our story, Part I: What really happened to school funding?

The election's over - can we talk reality now?

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 >>>)

School aid budget in pictures

What they're looking at in the smoke filled rooms

Now that the state's top economists have painted a somewhat less flush picture for next year, Legislative leaders are sitting down and hammering out final budget numbers. You won't get to watch - this is all happening in the proverbial "smoke-filled rooms" where the key players wheel and deal. So what are we likely to get? Our earlier articles outline the Governor's proposed school aid budget, and each house passed their own version. On the surface, the Governor's appeared to be the least generous, while the Senate trumpeted per pupil increases of up to $300 per pupil. But is everything as it seems? The fact that all three proposals spend nearly identical amounts of money should be our clue that the devil is in the details.

In our presentation on school funding to the State Board of Education (see upcoming article), we argued that legitimate school funding models would need to:

  • be fair, or equitable, to all participants (though that doesn't necessarily mean equal),
  • provide adequate resources for schools to do what we ask of them, and
  • put resources where they were most needed.

How do the budget proposals do on these scores? Not so well. A picture is worth a thousand words.

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