The Detroit News reports that though Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing an overall 2 percent increase in funding for schools, some school districts could see a slight funding decrease.
Under Gov. Snyder's plan, the minimum state foundation allowance per pupil would rise from $6,966 to $7,000. However, the state's "best practices" grant would decline from $52 to $16 per pupil. For some districts, the combination of changes would result in a $2-per-student funding decrease.
The state used best practices money this year to encourage districts to, among other things, participate in “Schools-of-Choice,” obtain competitive bids for non-instructional services and offer more online learning opportunities.
As John Nixon, Gov. Snyder's budget director, told The News, the best practices money was one-time funding, not an assured stream of revenue. "We said it until we were blue in the face," he said.
And yet, some school officials apparently were counting on the money continuing. "All I can pick out is plus $34 (the increased minimum foundation allowance) and minus $36 (the difference between next year's and this year's best practices funding)," Hartland Consolidated Schools Superintendent Scott Bacon told The News.
Reducing and eventually eliminating best practices money is the right move for taxpayers. Too many school districts took advantage of the grants by doing the absolute minimum, or, in some cases, nothing at all.
Consider the districts that abused the state's 2012-13 recommended best practice of allowing some non-resident students to attend their schools. The decisions made by school officials in Freeland, Chelsea, Birmingham and other districts were calculated to allow in the fewest students possible.
- Freeland opened five kindergarten spots for $131,000 in best practices money.
- Chelsea opened up just one spot in its virtual school. No student enrolled, but the district still will get $130,000 in state taxpayer money.
- For $430,000, Birmingham opened six seats to 11th grade students, but only at its alternative school.
- Rochester offered six seats, also only at its alternative school.
Or, consider the fact that more than half of the districts that qualified for 2011-12 best practices grants by making four out of five recommended reforms chose not to reform their health care costs. And yet, that was the one reform that stood to save districts the most money.
Amanda Fisher, assistant state director of the Michigan chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, told Michigan Capitol Confidential that widespread district reluctance to have employees pay a small amount of their health care costs showed exactly why a law was needed to mandate the practice.
While Gov. Snyder has generally used best practices incentives to encourage districts to save money and to expand educational opportunities for students, the money could easily have been used to encourage districts to make bad fiscal decisions.
A governor with different priorities, for example, could have used incentives to reward districts that explicitly did not seek competitive bids for non-instructional services. Ideally, schools should be rewarded for better outcomes for students, not for practices state officials have determined to be a priority.
School districts should not continue to be rewarded for doing the absolute minimum at taxpayer expense. Eventually eliminating best practices money is the right move. And, district officials who counted one-time grants as a steady source of future revenue have only themselves to blame for any budgetary difficulty they may face.