While Michigan's school funding "crisis" rages on, the Alabama Board of Education just came up with a plan to balance the state's education budget in one day.
Unlike Michigan, Alabama's state Board has the tools needed to contain the out-of-control labor costs that generate our public school establishment's perpetual and self-imposed funding debacles. Last week, they came up with two ways to balance the state education budget:
- Implement a modest increase in the amount school employees contribute (6 percent) to the Alabama Teacher Retirement System.
- Freeze the amount of the state's contribution for employee health insurance benefits.
With these two steps Alabama's education funding problems will be solved. If Michigan's state Board of Education had comparable powers, it could similarly resolve our school funding issues with two simple steps:
- Require salaried school employees to contribute 2 percent of their pay to the Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System. This would save school districts approximately $144 million annually, or about $90 per pupil, according to data from the Center for Educational Performance and Information.
- Require school employees to contribute 15 percent to the cost of insurance premiums. This would save $290 million, or $180 per pupil. (The 2008 average private-sector employee health insurance contribution in Michigan was 22 percent for a family plan premium.)
Of course, if Michigan's state Board of Education had similar powers, there's no reason to imagine it wouldn't be just as much a captive of school employee unions as most local school boards. In the final analysis, the real difference between the two states is the outsized political power of public employee unions here.
Nevertheless, viewing our problems through this lens does clarify them.