The Mackinac Center for Public Policy works with Michigan school officials to help channel more resources to the classroom by reducing the cost of noninstructional activities. These support functions—transportation, food service, and custodial work, for example—are increasingly being contracted out by school boards to private firms, saving money and often improving quality at the same time. This frees up resources to be put to work in the classroom, or to be used in other ways that can avoid higher taxes. Injecting competitive bidding into the process of providing these services is simply good stewardship of public funds and a sound management practice.

In a 1993 internal document[*] titled "Parameters," however, the Michigan Education Association made it plain where it stands on this issue. It unequivocally opposes "any privatization of public school functions." True to this document, the MEA worked hard—although unsuccessfully—to defeat legislation in 1994 that gave Michigan school boards greater freedom to reduce costs by contracting out for support services.

Despite the MEA’s opposition to schools contracting out for support services, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy discovered in 1994 that the MEA contracts with a number of companies to perform the very tasks at its East Lansing headquarters that it opposes for public schools. The Mackinac Center found that Lansing-area private companies, not unionized employees of the MEA, were busy providing the union with all its custodial work, food service, security, and mailing functions. Furthermore, three of the four firms used were non-union. The company that operated the MEA’s cafeteria was the very same firm that operates many public school cafeterias.

If it is acceptable for the MEA to save money by contracting out for support services, why is it wrong to school boards to do the same thing to channel more financial resources into the classroom?

PARAMETERS[*]

Introduction:

As the MEA advocates for adequate funding of the public educational system for the students of the state of Michigan, it is recommended that the following parameters guide those activities and decisions.

Statements:

  1. That the MEA oppose any effort to weaken, directly or indirectly, PERA. Our right to bargain locally must not be compromised. Neither salary nor fringe benefits (insurance) should be established by the state. There shall be no state imposed salary/fringe benefit caps. Agency shop and payroll deduction rights must not be limited. There shall be no limit of the rights of public school employees to be involved in politics.

  2. That the MEA oppose any privatization of public school functions.

  3. That the current defined-benefit Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System be maintained or improved but not diminished. That the notion of a two-tiered system be categorically rejected. In addition, the MEA shall continue to lobby for pre-funding of both pension and insurance benefits.

  4. That all Michigan students shall be educated by fully certified personnel and that efforts to further erode certification requirements shall be opposed.

  5. That tenure not be altered.

  6. That the MEA maintain flexibility concerning the organizational structure of Michigan’s public schools as it relates to size, type and number of districts provided that adequate safeguards regarding school employees’ employment rights are maintained and provided there is demonstrable benefits to the students.

  7. That the MEA remain resolved to the principle of public funds for only public schools.

  8. That MEA consider all available taxes to adequately fund education in the public schools of Michigan.

  9. There will be no priority of taxes. The decision on which taxes can be supported should be based on the following criteria:

    • Those taxes that are federally deductible.
    • Those taxes that are legislatively enacted.
    • Business must pay its share of school funding and not transfer this to individuals.
    • The stability of the tax should be taken into consideration.
    • All new funds generated from any of the above taxes must be earmarked for education.

  10. The following taxes may be considered for raising the revenue necessary to fund education:

  11. Sales tax
    Income Tax
    Statewide property tax
    Gross receipts tax
    Single business tax
    Statewide commercial business and industrial tax
    Local property tax
    Cancel abatements
    Sin tax
    Increase the value added tax +
    Use and service tax
    Real property tax
    Tourist taxes
    Personal exemption on income tax

  12. The state must set the essential standards for quality education. Those standards are embodied in P.A. 25. The site-based decision making standard must be improved to truly change the decision making process. Full funding must be provided to meet the standards.

  13. The MEA supports the maintenance of special educational services. The education for special needs students must be fully funded. The needs of both general education and special education students need to be met and enhanced by:

  14. (continued) This funding should be supplemental funds above the basic grant.

  15. The state must fund what it costs to achieve the standards established in a mandated quality program by providing a program grant to each district. The funds must come from guaranteed/earmarked taxes including a statewide commercial industrial tax to insure growth in funding.

  16. The state must allow local districts to raise local dollars to enhance the state grant.

  17. The state and local funding mechanism should be built in a way which will keep all districts’ (spending) whole in 1994-95.

  18. There could be a phase-in of up to five years. Phasing in would necessitate that low spending districts would grow faster than high spending districts.

  19. Regional taxing authorities would be acceptable, if necessary, to enhance the funding mechanism.

  20. That the MEA continues to support the rights of local districts to adopt open enrollment systems within their own district and continues to oppose mandated schools of choice. We should put our effort into making all districts "choice districts", negating the need for this divisive proposal.

  21. Vouchers, under any guise, for private schools are categorically unacceptable.

  22. That the MEA is willing to consider a lengthened school year provided that the current 180-day mandate is adequately funded, that the necessary additional funds are provided by the state, and that the number of additional days as well as terms and conditions are bargained locally.

  23. That the MEA’s current positions regarding accountability, assessment and MEAP are adequate to guide MEA leaders on these issues.

  24. Any attempts to base funding on MEAP and/or other test scores must be rejected.

  25. Implementation of Outcome Based Education shall be determined locally and shall not be used as a basis for funding.

  26. That the MEA continues to believe the best decisions are made locally and rejects the notion of a single statewide school district.

  27. That the MEA is opposed to charter schools.

    • Mandating building-level decision making about delivery of education for special needs students. This decision making must give more meaningful input to the affected general education employees;
    • When special need students are placed, mandate training and additional resources for building staff; and
    • Keep inclusive education as only one of the available service options.