[Photo of Michael Van Beek]

Michael Van Beek

Director of Research

Michael Van Beek is director of research for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He joined the Mackinac Center in June 2009 as director of education policy. He has authored several studies for the Center as well as analysis and commentaries that have been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, The Grand Rapids Press, The Oakland Press and elsewhere.

For four years prior to working at the Center, Van Beek taught political philosophy, government, economics and history at North Hills Classical Academy, a private primary and secondary school in Grand Rapids. He also served one year as a North Hills assistant administrator.

Van Beek obtained his Master of Arts in American history from Purdue University and his Bachelor of Arts in history from Hope College.

He lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife, three children, a dog and an assortment of semi-domesticated creatures, including a coyote named Gandalf, Felix the fox and the Harrisons, a family of red-tailed hawks.

National School Choice Week

National School Choice Week kicks off today. Michigan, once considered a school choice leader, should continue expanding learning opportunities for all students. … more

Michigan Spends More on Teacher Benefits Than Most Other States

Of all the funds spent on “instruction” in Michigan public schools in 2008, 28 percent went to employee fringe benefits. Only five states devoted more of their resources to benefits; the national average was 22 percent. … more

School Funding in Michigan: Common Myths

Michigan’s state-run school system is the largest and most expensive government service taxpayers support. It employs more than 350,000 people who work in one of the more than 4,100 different entities. The total amount this system expends each year adds up to more than $20 billion. Given the enormity and complexity of the system, it’s no surprise that a number of myths exist about how public schools are funded. … more

Poor ROI for K-12 Schools in Michigan and the US

The United States spends more on K-12 schooling than any other industrialized nation save for Switzerland, but gets mediocre results at best on internationally benchmarked standardized tests. Michigan mirrors this same situation: This state spends the 16th most among the states on schools, but its students consistently score near the bottom on national standardized tests. … more

Update on New Teacher Contracts

Three Michigan districts recently signed new contracts with their teachers union. All three include across-the-board pay raises for teachers for this year and the next. Each district also modified the type of health insurance package it offers teachers, all which are still much more generous than than can be found on average in the private sector. … more

Plymouth-Canton Teacher Contract Summary

Teachers in the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools contribute nothing to the cost of their health insurance premiums, and in 2009 received an average salary of $66,644. The local school union president is also carried as a full-time employee on the district's books, but is not required to teach or provide any other service — she collects a salary and full benefits but is granted full "release-time." These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

How to Save $500 Million on Michigan Schools

Michigan could save around $500 million if public school employees contributed the same percentage toward their employer-provided health insurance benefits as federal workers do, on average. The reform would generate savings of more than $300 per pupil. … more

The Underfunded Myth

Warren Woods School District Pays Nearly Double the Private-Sector Average for Health Insurance

Three school districts in the state recently agreed to new contracts with their teachers union. Warren Woods continues to pay an exhorbitant amount for health insurance, while Saugatuck saved money by just switching insurance providers. … more

Are Intermediate School Districts Bloated?

Traverse City Schools Set Transparency Precedent

ISD Bloat Redux

ISD Bloat Redux

My recent analysis showing that staffing levels at intermediate school districts grew significantly over the last decade — even as the number of students in Michigan public schools fell — drew some criticism from Dr. David A. Spitzley, an employee of the Washtenaw ISD. Dr. Spitzley points out that the data provided by the Michigan Department of Education's Center for Educational Performance and Information are inconsistent over time in some respects. Nevertheless, no matter how one slices the data, it still shows that ISD payrolls expanded while enrollment contracted. … more

Traverse City Schools Set Transparency Precedent

Traverse City Area Public Schools is raising transparency to a new level, and setting an example that other Michigan school districts should follow. … more

Brighton Teacher Contract Summary

Brighton Teacher Contract Summary

Brighton Area Schools is one of only 32 Michigan districts currently operating with a budget deficit, even though it takes in more than $8,000 per pupil. According the Michigan Department of Education, the district overspent by 17 percent last year. A good place to start looking for ways to get out of the red would be the teachers union contract, since the costs contained therein consume almost 70 percent of the district's general funds. … more

Analysis: Detroit Students Hostages to the Union

Detroit Students Hostages to the Union

A "multidimensional" crisis that's been unfolding for decades may finally be coming to a head in the Detroit Public Schools: The district is virtually bankrupt, the schools are unsafe and they generate the worst student achievement results in the nation. And now, Robert Bobb, the governor-appointed emergency financial manager, is waving the white flag, asking the state to borrow against future revenues to bail out the district. Doing so would be unfortunate for both students and state taxpayers. … more

Saugatuck School District Saves Big on Insurance

The Grand Rapids Press reports that teachers in Saugatuck Public Schools will no longer be provided with health insurance from the Michigan Education Special Services Association, an arm of the state's largest teachers union. The district instead will purchase employee insurance from Priority Health, a move that is said to save $3,800 per teacher annually. If similar savings were extended to all of Michigan's teachers it would amount to $394.4 million. … more

More on the School Employee Concession Myth

In a recent Detroit Free Press article, Doug Pratt of the Michigan Education Association argued that school employees have become victims to considerable budget cuts. Check out this latest video for more information. … more

Huron Valley Teacher Contract Summary

Huron Valley Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Huron Valley Schools was $62,439 in 2009, and teachers contribute nothing to the cost of their health insurance premiums. The district pays about 51 percent more than the average employer in the state for employee health insurance. Huron Valley also pays teachers who opt-out of health coverage $3,281 annually. The local union president is fully released from all teaching duties (without loss of pay or benefits) to conduct union business. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

The School Employee Concessions Myth

Harbor Beach Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Harbor Beach Community Schools was $58,229 in 2009, second highest in Huron County. Teachers contribute nothing to the cost of their health insurance premiums, which cost the district $19,761 per teacher for a family plan. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Cadillac Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Cadillac Public Schools was $55,617 in 2009, and teachers contribute nothing to the cost of their health insurance. The district pays $220 to employees for simply not enrolling in the school health insurance plan. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Is College Accessibility Really a Problem?

Both of Michigan's gubernatorial candidates favor spending more on higher education and claim more students need to gain access to college. Yet more students are enrolled in Michigan colleges than ever before, and a larger portion of Michigan residents are enrolled in college than other similarly sized states. … more

ISD Bloat?

The number of school employees for each student in Michigan's public school system has been rising for most of the past 15 years, and stands now at one employee for every eight students. This is surprising given Michigan's declining economy over the last decade, and the school establishment's perpetual complaints of being underfunded… more

ISD Bloat?

The number of school employees for each student in Michigan's public school system has been rising for most of the past 15 years, and stands now at one employee for every eight students. This is surprising given Michigan's declining economy over the last decade, and the school establishment's perpetual complaints of being underfunded… more

Virg Bernero on Education: Was Lost, But Now He's Found

In an interview with The Detroit News, gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero said, "One of the reasons we lose kids to the private school system is because of discipline."
"Losing" kids is an interesting way for Bernero to describe families who choose to opt-out of the public school system, since he himself was primarily educated at a non-public school, and also chose one for one of his children. … more

New State Data Shows Michigan Public Schools Spent Record Amount Per Student

Recaps of New Teacher Contracts

Many school boards around the state are attempting to renegotiate contracts with their local teachers unions to contain costs. Here's a brief recap of some of the new contracts agreed to recently. … more

Charlotte Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Charlotte Public Schools was $52,408 in 2009, and most teachers paid less than 2 percent of the cost of their health insurance premium. The district also pays between $300 and $500 per month to employees for simply not enrolling in the school health insurance plan. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Forest Hills Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Forest Hills Public Schools was $64,460 in 2009, and teachers contributed nothing towards the cost of their health insurance (the state average is about 20 percent). The district also pays $41 per month to teachers who do not enroll in the school health insurance plan. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Teachers Picket as One of Michigan's Wealthiest School Districts Faces Big Deficit

Garden City Teacher Contract Summary

The total compensation for 165 teachers in the Garden City Public Schools exceeded $100,000 in 2009, and employees make zero contribution to the health insurance provided them by the district, which for a family plan runs about $18,400. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Teachers Picket as One of Michigan's Wealthiest School Districts Faces Big Deficit

Michigan and local taxpayers provided the West Bloomfield School District with more than $13,500 per student in 2008-2009, yet it still faces a $1.7 million deficit this year and $3.8 million next year. Employee compensation makes up 85 percent of the budget, so the district has asked teachers to help close the gap with revisions to their union contract. Their response was to picket, which they did Monday night. … more

How to Fix Flint Schools

The Flint Journal reports that members of a newly formed group called Flint Area Congregations Together (FACT) recently traveled to California, Virginia and New York looking for successful schools in areas with demographics similar Flint. While the aim is noble, the group could learn from a number of high-performing schools right at home in Flint. … more

Analysis: Pseudo School 'Cuts'

Pseudo School 'Cuts'

Whenever faced with the possibility of lower revenue, Michigan's public school establishment perennially cry they've already been "cut to the bone." Many people find the claim plausible given the state's "lost decade," so they may be surprised to discover how many school districts have consistently cut costs in recent years: Five. … more

Recaps of New Teachers Union Contracts

Many school boards around the state are attempting to renegotiate contracts with their local teachers unions to contain costs. Here's a brief recap of some of the new contracts agreed to this last month. … more

Consolidating School Districts Won’t Save Michigan $600 Million

Recaps of New Teachers Union Contracts

Many school boards around the state are attempting to renegotiate contracts with their local teachers unions to contain costs. Here's a brief recap of some of the new contracts agreed to this last month. … more

MEA: Merit Pay Works!

The Michigan Education Association opposes bonus pay for teachers who excel at improving student performance, but supports a merit system for teachers who excel at raising money for MEA politicking. … more

Analysis: We Still Need to Reform Teacher Pay

We Still Need to Reform Teacher Pay

A study released this week shows that merit pay didn't improve test scores for students in Nashville, Tenn. While they're no panacea for all that ails public schools, merit pay and other differential pay systems are improvements over the "single salary schedule" — the method by which nearly every school in the country pays its teachers. … more

Analysis: Consolidating School Districts Won’t Save Michigan $600 Million

Analysis: Detroit Public Schools Students Bear the Pain of Limited Educational Opportunities

A freshman at a Detroit high school experienced a disturbing first day: Two fellow students were shot on their way home from school Tuesday. Not surprisingly, he doesn't want to return to the school, but the state has effectively limited his chances of finding a better and safer learning environment. … more

Detroit Public Schools Students Bear the Pain of Limited Educational Opportunities

A freshman at a Detroit high school experienced a disturbing first day: Two fellow students were shot on their way home from school Tuesday. Not surprisingly, he doesn't want to return to the school, but the state has effectively limited his chances of finding a better and safer learning environment. … more

Michigan Public School Health Insurance Costs Soar Above National Trends

Michigan Public School Health Insurance Costs Soar Above National Trends

A new annual survey of health insurance shows a slowdown in rising costs of premiums, yet in Michigan's public schools, premiums are skyrocketing. … more

Common School Funding Myths

The Unstable Funding Myth

The Sales Tax and Lottery Myth

The School Employee Concession Myth

Analysis: Merit Pay in Mt. Clemens?

Merit Pay in Mt. Clemens?

A new union contract in Mt. Clemens ties satisfactory teacher evaluations to pay raises. To be sure, this represents a move towards breaking from the assembly line mentality of the single salary schedule in favor of a compensation model based in part on performance. But this is a very small baby step, and it's unlikely to have any impact on raising student achievement. … more

Plagiarism at MSU? You Decide.

Take a look at the MSU study and decide whether this should be considered plagiarism or not. … more

Mona Shores Teacher Contract Summary

MSU Consolidation Study Seriously Flawed

A new Michigan State University report on school consolidation appears to contain a substantial amount of plagiarized material, as reported by the Mackinac Center on Aug. 18. Diligent reviewers shouldn't stop there, however, because the study's methodology is also deeply flawed. Even if one believes that all districts would save money through consolidation, the conclusion that they could save $612 million is wildly exaggerated. … more

Plagiarism in MSU Study?

A recent study commissioned by Booth Newspapers and conducted by Michigan State University's Education Policy Center concludes that Michigan would save $612 million by consolidating school districts at the county level. While the methodology remains highly suspect, the study suffers from a far greater problem: It appears to contain significant amounts of plagiarized material. … more

'Edujobs' Will Hurt Public Schools

The public school bailout bill, doling out $318 million to Michigan, will ultimately do more harm than good. … more

Mona Shores Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in the Mona Shore Public Schools was $58,544 in 2009, and employees are not required to contribute anything to health insurance policies that cost the district some $12,800 annually. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

"Edujobs" Fact Check, Part II

"Edujobs" Fact Check, Part II

Michigan's share of the loot from the "edujobs" bill passed by Congress this week will be about $310 million. We're told  that this will "save" 4,700 teacher jobs in Michigan. That's highly unlikely, for a couple of reasons. … more

'EduJobs' Fact Check

'EduJobs' Fact Check

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Sen. Debbie Stabenow were quick to praise the new "edujobs" bill passed by Congress as part of a "stimulus II" package. The $310 million is said to "save" 4,700 teacher jobs. That's unlikely. What is likely is that the public school bureaucracy merely gets another shot in the arm. … more

More MEA Obfuscation

The Michigan Education Association continues its perpetual campaign to obfuscate the facts about teacher pay. … more

The Unequal Funding Myth

St. Joseph Teacher Contract Summary

St. Joseph Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in the St. Joseph Public Schools was $57,861 in 2009, and employees are not required to contribute anything to health insurance policies that cost the district some $11,400 annually. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Holland Teacher Contract Summary

Most school districts are putting the finishing touches on next year's budget and anxiously awaiting word from Lansing about the exact dollar amount they'll get per pupil. While they're waiting, districts would be wise to give their teachers union contract a close look, since the bulk of school spending is absorbed by these employees. … more

August in Michigan Is Teacher Freedom Month

The Class Size Myth

New State Data Shows Michigan Public Schools Spent Record Amount Per-Student

New State Data Show Michigan Public Schools Spent Record Amount Per-Student

Michigan public schools received and spent more money per pupil in 2008-2009 than in any previous year for which figures are available, according to new data from the Michigan Department of Education. … more

The Sales Tax and Lottery Myth

Wayne-Westland Teacher Contract: Summary and Analysis

Walled Lake Teacher Contract Analysis

Wayne-Westland Teacher Contract Summary

About 75 percent of the Wayne-Westland Community School's $111 million budget goes towards paying employees covered by its current collective bargaining agreement for teachers and a few other employee groups. … more

The Unequal Funding Myth

Are Public Schools Underfunded? No

Ann Arbor Teachers Union Keeps District Out of Balance

The union concedes to help close one-fifth of budget gap, while pay for its members consumes three-quarters of district spending. … more

Districts Save With Health Savings Accounts

Districts Save With Health Savings Accounts

More school districts are realizing the savings that can be had from consumer-driven, high-deductible health insurance plans. … more

The Unstable Funding Myth

MEA Rally: Massive Failure or Just Waste of Time and Money?

MEA said they'd bring 10,000 people to Lansing and wound up with only 3,500. … more

The Unstable Funding Myth

Traverse City Teacher Contract: Summary and Analysis

Traverse City Teacher Contract Summary

In 2009, the vast majority of teachers in the Traverse City Area Public Schools received a base salary between $45,355 and $67,973, with an average of $56,742. The district also pays $14,631 annually for employee health insurance plans, toward which teachers contribute $87.50 per month, or 7 percent. This contrasts with the statewide average cost (private and public sector) for an employer-provided family plan of $11,300, with employees picking up 22 percent of that amount.
These are among the highlights of the current collective bargaining agreement for teachers and a few other employee groups, obtained from the district by professional negotiators employed by the Michigan Education Association. … more

The Kalamazoo Promise vs. School Choice

Is "The Kalamazoo Promise" program inherently better than school choice? … more

Analysis: Another LIFO Victim

Another LIFO Victim

LIFO stands for "last in, first out" and describes how nearly all Michigan school districts choose which teachers to lay off when downsizing becomes a necessity. … more

How Michigan’s School Foundation Allowance Works

Analysis: The Underfunded Schools Myth

How Public School Funding Works

The Underfunded Myth