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Our take on developments in school funding and policy.

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: (Cont'd)

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.

MI Parents: Keep the Public in Public Education

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:

Preface

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

Senate weighing school takeover bill

After a bruising vote in the House, the Michigan Senate is slated to take up the latest version of HB 4369, the state school takeover bill. Most people, including us, have been calling this the "EAA bill," but that's a misnomer. The latest version of the bill doesn't even mention the Education Achievement Authority by name, though it would allow the EAA to continue operating and even expand.

What the bill does do, however, is to cement in place a state school takeover system originally rushed into law over four years ago in a desperate attempt to win a share of Federal "race to the top" funding. (We didn't get any.) At the time, everyone agreed that the provisions being rushed into law were less than half-baked, and lawmakers promised to re-visit the provisions and replace them with sound policy. Naturally, that never happened.

But the EAA is still an important part of this story, mainly because of the lessons it - and other examples of state intervention - should have taught us about what happens under state takeover. What are some of those lessons?

Who is watching the school "reformers"?

It's hard to talk about education these days without hearing the word "accountability" in nearly every sentence. Teachers should be accountable, administrators should be accountable, and school officials should be accountable. There is no question that the education of our children is a top priority and, yes, the people doing that job should be accountable.

Strange, then, that our state government's one and only strategy to address persistently struggling schools and districts would abandon accountability entirely. Children are already paying the price.

Departments: 

Who has "fact issues"?

Gov. Rick Snyder claims that that he and his administration have been investing in kids, that there has been “no reduction” in state support for K-12 education.

He says that “it’s not about partisanship, let’s just do the right thing.” We agree with those sentiments: support for strong, community-governed public education should not be a partisan issue, and we should definitely “do the right thing.” We’re still waiting for the governor to propose, and the legislature to pass, a budget that does right by the children of Michigan.

Gov. Snyder then goes on to say that people who argue he’s been cutting K-12 education “have fact issues.” But it is the governor’s facts which need a second look.

Bottom line: Gov. Snyder’s budgets took advantage of the depth of the recession to dig the hole even deeper in the first year to accomplish business tax cuts and other changes, allowing the weak recovery in subsequent years to look much better by comparison – but only if you ignore what things were like before or what things might have been like today had different choices been made. Between the end of earmarked school aid revenue from the Michigan Business Tax, and the diversion of funds to pay for colleges and universities, K-12 schools lost over $1.1 billion, or nearly $740 per pupil, each year because of the changes Gov. Snyder pushed through in 2011.

When did we become the enemy?

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?

Open letter to Sec. Arne Duncan

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.

Eleven percent increase for schools since 2009-10? Not so much.

In his budget presentation to the State Legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder billed the education portion as making an investment in Michigan. He described increased spending on preschool – a good thing – and efforts to limit the costs of the public school employee pension system – the burden of which falls mostly on current and future retirees. But he also claimed that the state government had increased spending on K-12 education by 11% over the last four years, including his new proposal. He even had a slide to “illustrate” the point.

Now, with the Governor’s focus on being a “nerd,” and the budget materials all identifying him as a Certified Public Accountant as well as Governor, you might think that all these numbers pretty much reflect reality. But as we have learned over the last decade, to our cost, financial numbers can be “massaged” to tell different stories depending on the audience.

Gov. Snyder, CPA, was engaged in a litte bit of what they call “earnings management.” A closer look at K-12 spending shows a different, and more accurate, picture. We need to keep the true picture in mind as we discuss the performance of our public schools.

Special sections: 

What do we want from our schools?

At a meeting in Lansing last Tuesday morning, staffers from the Center for Michigan presented the results of their year-long series of “community conversations” about education, held all around the state.

Three panels of experts, officials and education policy specialists met to talk about the key questions facing public education in Michigan. Among the take-aways:

From the community conversations –

  • Michigan residents gave public schools a mixed review, though they were significantly more positive about their own schools than about Michigan public schools as a whole.
  • The public is willing to pay more for public education, if the money will be used in a concrete way to improve our schools.
  • Many key reform initiatives, like increasing educational “choice,” are not so high on the list of public priorities.

From the panels –

  • There’s broad agreement that preschool available to every child is an important goal – but the way to pay for it is less clear.
  • There’s agreement that it’s important for teachers get the schooling, job training, and job feedback they need to constantly improve, and that this task is harder than is often acknowledged.
  • There are serious and deep disagreements about what kinds of policy measures are needed to improve public schools and how much they should cost.

But most noticeable, perhaps, was the extent to which political operatives representing the current policy direction were out of step with the concerns expressed by Michigan citizens.

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