The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

Voters’ Support for School Choice Remains Strong

Most Detroit residents want more options

MLive reports this week that the share of Michigan students enrolling across school district lines or in public charter schools has reached 23 percent. Still others choose private schools (7 percent) or homeschooling (3 percent). The growing trend of families to access different school options is reinforced by the broader popularity of choice found in a new Mackinac Center public opinion survey.

The new scientific statewide poll, conducted by Marketing Research Group, shows 55 percent of Michigan voters support public charter schools as an option for families, more than twice as many as are opposed.

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The result is consistent with answers given to an identical question two years ago, despite heightened attacks in 2014 from major media outlets and organized interest groups. More recently, a political full-court press nearly resulted in the creation of a new commission to restrict the growth of charters in Detroit. Anti-charter attacks persist nationally and locally.

Currently, Michigan charter schools enroll about 150,000 students, about one-tenth of the state’s public school population, with larger shares served in Detroit and other urban centers. Charters’ more disadvantaged student bodies gain on average an extra two to three months of learning each year compared with their peers in traditional public schools, according to the best available research.

Support for the increasingly popular opportunity to enroll across school district lines is comparably strong: 62 percent versus 34 percent in opposition. Through the Schools of Choice program, most Michigan districts have embraced the option to accept out-of-district enrollments, with more than 180,000 students participating last year.

Most respondents to the Mackinac survey are content with the current range of opportunities to select schools beyond the traditional assignment approach. Statewide, 59 percent of respondents said Michigan has about the right amount of choice, while a quarter said more is needed. In the Motor City, though, where educational struggles are deep and well documented, 51 percent believe there isn’t enough choice. Only 35 percent of Detroiters are satisfied with available options.

One option not currently available in Michigan registered as the most appealing of all in the poll: tax credit scholarships, which served 225,000 students from 15 different states in 2015-16. Under these programs, an individual or business receives a tax bill write-off for donating funds to a nonprofit scholarship organization. Families then apply for needed tuition aid from one of these organizations to enroll in a private school of their choice.

Respondents backed tax credit scholarships by a 2-to-1 margin (57 percent to 29 percent). Follow-up questions revealed Michiganders recognize that certain students have challenges that might be addressed by increased educational choice. Three out of four respondents (77 percent) liked the idea of making tax-credit scholarships available to families with special needs students. Almost as many (70 percent) favored offering the scholarships to low-income families.

Unfortunately, an imposing barrier currently blocks the way to promising private school choice plans. Michigan’s exceptionally restrictive state Constitution denies even the neediest, most vulnerable families the opportunity to access such a program.

By a margin of 55 to 36 percent, Michiganders do not believe that educational choice harms traditional public schools. The wisdom of the crowd aligns with a compelling body of research. Thirty-one out of 33 gold standard studies find that competition from private school choice actually helps improve public school performance. The record is less overwhelming, but still strong, for the broad positive effects of public charter schools.

The broad support for some choice programs demonstrates not only a compassion for families who need new effective options, but also an ability to see through one of the opponents’ primary arguments.

Support for all kinds of educational choice within the Great Lakes State meets or exceeds national sentiment. A recently released poll from Education Next, a pro-school reform journal, shows similar results on nearly all questions.

When it comes to changing the playing field of K-12 education, most voters embrace the concept of choice. The challenge that lies ahead is translating that support and demand into new learning opportunities that help raise the bar for all Michigan students.

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Related Articles:

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School Choice Benefits All Students

If the government prevented people from shopping outside of their own town or state, they would be outraged and recognize it as limiting their freedom. If Michigan businesses were prevented from buying or selling their products to people from other states, most people would understand that to be economically destructive.

Yet when it comes to the issue of foreign trade a lot of people from both sides of the political spectrum are opposed to allowing a similar free flow of products and services between countries. That’s why the two main presidential candidates are able to run their campaigns with antitrade sentiments as key planks.

But international free trade is a good thing. It allows people to sell their products to a much larger group. It gives consumers more choices in what they are buying, making goods and services better and less costly because of the increased competition.

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Antitrade sentiment often plays well politically in Michigan. Many people blame foreign trade for the loss of some jobs, though that was occurring before trade agreements were made and is more related to technological advances and labor laws. Even leftist economists at the Economic Policy Institute only blame NAFTA – the trade agreement most frequently cited as economically destructive – for the net loss of 43,600 jobs in Michigan, a state with 4.8 million jobs. This, of course, doesn’t make it any easier for the people who lost these jobs, but it nevertheless shows that even the highest estimates of the negative impact of NAFTA on Michigan workers can find only a minuscule effect.

But it is likely that trade leads to more jobs overall. A new report from The Heritage Foundation looks at trade as it relates to Michigan. In particular, it looks at the benefits from trade – the number of jobs supported by exports, foreign investment in the state, and jobs gained from trade agreements. Here are some facts from the report about trade in Michigan:

  1. There are more than 14,500 Michigan businesses that export goods around the world, supporting almost 271,000 in-state jobs.
  2. Service exports have more than doubled in the last decade to $13.4 billion while merchandise exports have increased to $53.2 billion. Transportation companies export $26 billion worth of equipment to 165 countries.
  3. Since NAFTA was signed in 1994, the state has gained 281,700 jobs overall and has a lower unemployment rate.
  4. Michigan is home to 1,733 automobile and auto parts companies, 26 percent of which are foreign owned.
  5. The state imports $124 billion worth of goods, mostly from Canada and Mexico. This competition lowers the costs of goods for consumers and provides products for Michigan workers to sell.
  6. Michigan has significantly increased its emports to Mexico (16 percent) and China (27 percent) in just the past three years.
  7. The 30 percent steel tariffs imposed under the Bush administration harmed Michigan companies – the increase in cost made Michigan lose more jobs than all but three states.

Lowering trade barriers can provide new competition to businesses competing with foreign producers. But it also provides new opportunities for other local businesses, which might benefit from selling goods to new buyers in new markets. The historical evidence is overwhelming: Free trade always accompanies economic growth and prosperity, and countries that allow their people to take part are, on balance, much better off.

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Michigan and Ontario Governments Agree to Promote Crony Capitalism Together

When international cooperation is not helpful but destructive

At an event held in northern Michigan on Aug. 4, Gov. Rick Snyder announced that he and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne would sign a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in promoting the automotive industries of Michigan and Ontario. This type of selective government meddling in the economy is a bad idea and should be avoided.

It effectively amounts to crony capitalism, which Oxford Dictionaries defines as an “economic system characterized by close, mutually advantageous relationships between business leaders and government officials.” Crony capitalism has been justifiably denounced by a diverse array of scholars, associations and politicians. These cozy relationships are typically unfair, expensive, and ineffective.

The plan the two politicians announced comes with no cost estimates. But it is easy to see how the memorandum’s vaguely worded vision of “jointly developing new programs to address emerging technology needs” could lead to new spending on business subsidies (otherwise known as “corporate welfare”) on both sides of the border.

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It is fundamentally unfair that any dollars from our public treasuries are used to support such initiatives, which confiscate money from millions of people and businesses, diverting it to a privileged few with special government relationships. The “promotion” of one industry almost invariably results in the “demotion” of other industries, as businesses and people without political clout are forced to pay full freight.

And pay they do. For example, the state of Michigan approved $3 billion in incentives to just the Big 3 automakers in 2009 and 2010 alone through its (now defunct) Michigan Economic Growth Authority program. Four out of five scholarly analyses of the MEGA program concluded that it had, at best, no impact on the economy. The fifth analysis said the program had a positive but tiny benefit. There are numerous other examples of failed corporate welfare initiatives in Michigan alone.

And then there’s Ontario, where the provincial government provided General Motors and Chrysler with a $4.6 billion bailout in 2009. A report from Ontario’s Auditor General identified several problems with handouts from the provincial government to businesses. It also determined that the government recovered only $3.6 billion and had to write-off $1 billion of taxpayer money from the bailout. If you add in the money given to the auto companies from Canada’s federal government, the total cost to Canadian taxpayers was estimated at $3.7 billion. (All numbers are expressed in Canadian dollars.)

There is, of course, a litany of other examples. But the point is that the money to fuel the programs behind corporate giveaways and other “partnerships” doesn’t come in token amounts from bake sales. Instead, it comes from money that governments take from businesses and individuals through the tax system. The funds pay bureaucrats big dollars to oversee government programs, but they would be more effectively invested by market entrepreneurs who actually have the information and expertise to make informed investment decisions. Cronyism has another cost as well: It forces talented business officials to spend time and money making political calculations instead of purely economic ones.

Scholars from across North America have looked at government “promotion” efforts from every conceivable angle. The academic literature on official economic development programs is not flattering. Much of it was summarized in 2004 by economists Peter Fisher and Alan Peters in their peer-reviewed journal article “The Failure of Economic Development Incentives.” In their conclusion, they write: “Since these programs probably cost state and local governments about $40-$50 billion a year, one would expect some clear and undisputed evidence of their success. This is not the case.”

Instead of selectively meddling in the private economy and promoting one industry at the expense of others, Snyder and Wynne should focus on advancing broad-based policies that will encourage investment and entrepreneurship. That is the true path to prosperity, not more subsidies for the auto industry.

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Charter School-Prison Comparison Misses the Mark

Analyzing recent attacks on school choice

This year’s back-to-school season has brought out more than the usual share of anti-charter hostility — with local critics seeking to amplify national voices.

On his HBO show, comedian John Oliver skewered charter schools with 18 minutes of uninformed and outdated (but otherwise funny) satire. The NAACP has called for a moratorium on new charters, which has provoked a bewildered backlash from many who see the benefits they have provided for children of color.

Playing a similar tune, the chair of Michigan State University’s music education department last week unleashed an off-key analogy: “As with the private prison scenario, the explosion of charter schools in the last decade has created parallel school systems — both allegedly public, but fighting for limited resources, and competing on an uneven playing field.”

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Mitchell Robinson said the charter “experiment” should come to an end, ignoring the fact that most studies find these independent public schools have a positive or, at worst, neutral effect on the public education system. It isn’t clear whether he wants to shut down charter schools, which would directly harm millions of students, or simply take them over and roll back the clock on a popular and beneficial education reform.

In the end, his blog piece reveals more about the defects of anti-charter ideology than about the nature of charters themselves. He offers a series of unsubstantiated generalizations of charter schools as joyless testing centers staffed by unqualified script readers. In so doing, he ironically attempts to squeeze families’ educational alternatives into a standardized mold.

Robinson errs in equating bureaucratic oversight with school quality. Michigan charters operate under nearly as many regulations as other public schools, and have been held to stricter account for performance. Given Robinson’s bleak description of charter school conditions, one might be surprised to find that the best available research shows Michigan charters on average provide students with an additional two to three months of learning each year. Further, his claim that charter schools have higher student suspension rates fails the test.

His entire assessment is colored by a major omission — namely, that parents actively choose to enroll their children in charter schools. These schools exist because families seek safer, better options or environments more suited to their needs. Thus, charter schools are more directly accountable to students and parents. That’s easy to overlook when the goal is to claim that charters are not “locally managed and controlled.”

Perhaps Robinson should talk to charter parents in Detroit, like LaTanya Dorsey, who found “a great environment to learn” for her daughter, or Toya Putnam, who was glad for a charter option that offered a “better curriculum.” Detroit mom Lisa Cobb would disagree with the professor, based on personal experience, that charters don’t offer students opportunities in music and fine arts.

Detroit charters like the ones these parents have chosen receive on average a little more than half the total per-pupil funding collected by the old district system. Is that the uneven playing field Robinson laments?

School choice supporters should be encouraged by recent attacks like Robinson’s, attacks rooted more in frustration than in fact. They reveal that educational freedom cannot easily be stuffed back in the box. The opposition’s overheated anti-charter rhetoric and attacks should be viewed as a sign that the movement has taken hold and is moving in the right direction to help more and more kids succeed.

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Related Articles:

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August 26, 2016 MichiganVotes Weekly Roll Call Report

Income tax money for roads; bans on e-cigs for minors, powdered booze and local knife regulations and more

While the Legislature is on a summer break with no voting, the Roll Call Report continues its review of key votes from the 2015-2016 session.

Senate Bill 231, Ban selling “e-cigarettes” to minors: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate on May 20, 2015

To ban selling or giving minors electronic vapor cigarettes, or any product or device that delivers nicotine. Violations would be a misdemeanor with a $50 fine, which also applies to giving a minor regular cigarettes. The House has not voted on this.

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Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 240, Ban powdered alcohol: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate on May 20, 2015

To ban the sale, use or possession of “powdered alcohol in Michigan.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 240, Ban powdered alcohol: Passed 102 to 3 in the House on October 13, 2015

The House vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 211, Authorize uncensored public school American heritage instruction: Passed 30 to 8 in the Senate on June 11, 2015

To require public school boards to permit instruction and reading of America's founding documents including those related to the country’s “representative form of limited government, the Bill of Rights, our free-market economic system, and patriotism.” Districts could not censor or restrain reading that includes “religious references in original source documents, writings, speeches, proclamations, or records.” The House has not voted on this bill.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 328, Authorize more State Police officer grades: Passed 35 to 0 in the Senate on June 4, 2015

To create two new grades of State Police officer, called "inspector" and "recruit." The current grades are colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant and trooper.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 328, Authorize more State Police officer grades: Passed 107 to 0 in the House on January 26, 2016

The House vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 165, Authorize pedal-powered beer bars: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate on May 14, 2015

To establish that a “commercial quadricycle,” which is a pedal-powered mobile beer bar, is not considered a “motor vehicle” even if it has auxiliary power, and instead would be subject to much less onerous regulations. Passengers could have open beer or wine containers but drivers would have to have a blood alcohol level of zero.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 165, Authorize pedal-powered beer bars: Passed 96 to 13 in the House on June 18, 2015

The House vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 305, Preempt local knife regulations: Passed 27 to 10 in the Senate on June 9, 2015

To preempt local government ordinances or rules on the transportation, possession, carrying, sale, purchase, manufacturing, etc. of a knife or knife-making components. A similar preemption restricts local gun regulations. The House has not voted on this bill.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 414, Earmark some income tax revenue to road repairs: Passed 27 to 11 in the Senate on July 1, 2015

To earmark $350 million from state income tax collections to road repairs in 2016, and $700 million in subsequent years.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


Senate Bill 414, Earmark some income tax revenue to road repairs: Passed 61 to 45 in the House on October 21, 2015

The House vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

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Petty Restrictions on Tobacco Endanger Respect for Law

Creating unnecessary crimes weakens force of important laws

Herbert Hoover said, “The worst evil of disregard for some law is that it destroys respect for all law.”

This point of view goes to the heart of the Mackinac Center’s work on over-criminalization. Center analysts have examined Michigan’s vast, disorganized criminal code, discovering at least 3,102 crimes. Many of these crimes are duplicative (prohibiting the display of material containing the name of an elected official at a polling place) or unnecessary (specifying the lettering type and color for contact information displayed on a barge). Still others are of dubious constitutionality (prohibiting the cohabitation of divorced parties).

Some of these laws are obviously ignored, but letting them stay on the books creates problems for Michiganders. It diverts attention and resources away from serious personal and property crimes. It puts well-meaning people in legal jeopardy by setting up an arbitrary system. And, as Hoover pointed out, it destroys respect for the law in general by creating the impression that laws are irrelevant, impossible to understand, and arbitrarily enforced.

Michigan State University and the city of Ann Arbor have recently enacted ordinances that compound the problem. MSU has banned the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes on and near its property while Ann Arbor has raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old. The ordinances create isolated zones where otherwise legal behavior is subject to punishment, raising serious questions about how to enforce them.

For example, MSU’s tobacco ban applies not only to university property but also to personal vehicles using public roads throughout the campus. If the campus police decide to enforce the ordinance, it will increase the number of needless traffic stops in an age when some such interactions have tragically spiraled out of control. If they don’t enforce it, as the school has signaled, the ban will only amount to another disregarded line in the Michigan Compiled Laws.

As for Ann Arbor, the city has already decided not to punish underage smokers for using or even attempting to purchase tobacco. Instead, it will penalize the businesses that sell it to them. Under this scheme, 18- to 20-year-olds will be able to drive to a neighboring city, buy tobacco products, and then return to an Ann Arbor tobacconist’s smoking lounge to use them. It is not yet clear how the city would enforce the age limit in this instance, especially since the ordinance probably conflicts with existing state law. Officials openly admit that they knew passing the ordinance meant that they will probably end up in court and passed it anyway.

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These two new ordinances encourage Michiganders to disrespect the law. A coherent, effective system of laws is critical to a healthy society and economy where personal and property rights are protected. The best path is to have a clear legal system applicable to everyone equally while ensuring that governments only penalize people who are truly blameworthy or dangerous.

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Government Held to Different Standard in Environmental Matters

Hayes discusses Kalamazoo River spill on WWMT

If a private company were responsible for the mistake that led to the discharge of over 570,000 gallons of wastewater into the Kalamazoo River this week, there would likely be public outrage, but because the government is responsible, most seem to turn a blind eye.

Mackinac Center’s Director of Environmental Policy Jason Hayes explained to WWMT/News Channel 3 that there’s a “clear double standard” when an environmental disaster is caused by government rather than a private company.

“Enbridge, because of a pipeline leak, had spilled oil into that same river, gets a $177 million judgement against it,” Hayes said, referring to a recent consent decree following the 2010 pipeline rupture. “What happens when government does this sort of thing is people just sort of shrug their shoulders and say, ‘What are you going to do?’”

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The partially treated wastewater spilled after an alarm failed to alert workers at a reclamation plant that water levels were rising. According to Wood TV, the alarm did not go off because a sensor was set improperly. Though the spill forced a no-contact order in and around the river, there has been little-to-no backlash for the contamination.

Hayes said government agencies and localities should face repercussions and be held responsible when they contaminate and pollute the environment.

Watch the full interview with WWMT here.

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Key Part of Civil Asset Forfeiture Law Ruled Unconstitutional

Bond requirement challenged at Court of Appeals

It is a basic principle of American law that the government may not deprive citizens of their property without due process. But, according to the Michigan Court of Appeals, at least one Michigan statute lets the state do exactly that.

When Shantrese Kinnon and her husband were arrested on drug charges in Kent County, the police searched her home and seized some property, including a GMC Denali, a Chevrolet El Camino, a motorcycle, a tablet, a laptop, and nearly $400 in cash from her purse.

Even though the couple had not yet been convicted of a crime, a scheme known as civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to keep the property with the burden of proof on the Kinnons to get it back. Shantrese tried to challenge the forfeitures of the seized items and get her property back but found she couldn’t afford to. The state requires her to post a bond equal to 10 percent of the value of the property – over $2,000 – before it proceeds.

But Kinnon was only able to come up with a little over $1,000, meaning that she was only able to challenge the forfeiture of the items that she could afford to post bond for. She would automatically lose her ownership rights to the others, even if she were innocent of the charges.

When her case went to trial, Kinnon argued that her rights to due process and equal protection had been violated. The bond requirement, she said, causes poor people to lose their property when they are not financially able to contest the forfeiture. By contrast, she continued, people with better resources can afford to pay the bond and make a case to get their property back.

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The Court of Appeals agreed. It held the bond requirement unconstitutional, ruling that “Because of her indigency and inability to pay the required bond, [Kinnon] was excluded ‘from the only forum effectively empowered to settle [her] dispute.’ … Ultimately, Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture scheme operated to deprive [Kinnon] of a significant property interest without according her the opportunity for a hearing, contrary to the requirements of the Due Process Clause.”

State Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, hopes the ruling will generate support for a bill that would remove the bond requirement. The Mackinac Center testified in support of the bill and has repeatedly called for other reforms to civil asset forfeiture, including a condition that a criminal conviction must be secured before property can be seized.

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August 19, 2016 MichiganVotes Weekly Roll Call Report

Cut-off welfare truant scofflaws, ease stair-lift restrictions, cap government investor guarantees, raise license fees

While the Legislature is on a summer break with no voting, the Roll Call Report continues its review of key votes from the 2015-2016 session.

House Bill 4163, Relax licensure restrictions on residential lift installers: Passed 62 to 47 in the House on March 11, 2015

To permit a licensed residential homebuilder to install residential stairway lifts without imposing the onerous licensure provisions that apply to elevator contractors. This applies to one-story stair-climbing machines for elderly or handicapped individuals.

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Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4163, Relax licensure restrictions on residential lift installers: Passed 27 to 10 in the Senate on May 13, 2015

The Senate vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4195, Cap government “venture capital investment” program: Passed 107 to 3 in the House on April 15, 2015

To prohibit the state from pledging any more future tax revenue to guarantee investor returns under an “early stage venture capital investment” scheme authorized by a 2003 law.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4195, Cap government “venture capital investment” program: Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate on October 29, 2015

The Senate vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4328, Authorize withholding state money from overspending school districts: Passed 58 to 51 in the House on April 23, 2015

To give the Department of Treasury the authority to withhold state school aid payments from an overspending school district that fails to submit an acceptable “deficit elimination plan,” or that then falls more deeply into financial trouble.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4328, Authorize withholding state money from overspending school districts: Passed 25 to 12 in the Senate on June 18, 2015

The Senate vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4364, Increase plumbers license fees: Passed 96 to 14 in the House on April 29, 2015

To extend for another four years certain “temporary” increases in plumbers' license fees. This and several other fee increases enacted in 2015 were proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder as part of his annual budget recommendation.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4364, Increase plumbers license fees: Passed 23 to 15 in the Senate on May 26, 2015

The Senate vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4052, Preempt local employer wage, benefit or labor law mandates: Passed 57 to 52 in the House

To preempt local governments, public schools, state colleges and universities, and other governmental authorities from imposing wage, benefit or leave time mandates on employers that exceed state or federal law.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4052, Preempt local employer wage, benefit or labor law mandates: Passed 22 to 16 in the Senate on June 17, 2015

The Senate vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4041, Ban welfare for persistent truancy: Passed 74 to 36 in the House on March 26, 2015

To withhold welfare benefits from a household with children who are persistently truant from school. A truant child age 16 and above could be removed from the household for this.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


House Bill 4041, Ban welfare for persistent truancy: Passed 26 to 12 in the Senate on May 26, 2015

The Senate vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”


SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

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Putting School Funding Inequity in Perspective

Proposal A has not been a dismal failure

For years, and especially in the wake of the state’s school funding “adequacy study,” people have called for more “equity” in how Michigan funds its public schools. Unfortunately, many of the appeals for more funding equity fail to consider the progress that has been made over the years. Instead, they treat each and every funding disparity as evidence of an entirely rigged, broken funding system.

For example, the Traverse City Record-Eagle recently declared that the distribution of funds to different school districts is “as off-kilter as it was when Proposal A passed in 1994,” asserting Michigan’s 22-year-old systemic change was a “dismal failure.”

That bold assertion falls apart under close scrutiny.

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The northern Michigan newspaper’s editors build their case on a shaky foundation, selectively comparing the financing of their largest local school district, Traverse City Area Public Schools, with one of the highest-funded districts in the state: Oakland County’s Birmingham Public Schools. The $4,400 gap in foundation allowances between the two districts should be considered in context.

The foundation allowance represents the state’s minimum per-pupil funding guarantee for both conventional districts and charter schools. On average, it represents about two-thirds of the total revenues districts receive. Even so, a large gap among districts within the primary funding formula can drive a significant disparity in overall funding levels.

In 1994, four out of every five school operating dollars came from local property taxes. Wealthy suburbs and upscale tourist towns thrived under the system. Districts with lower assessed business and residential properties lagged far behind. Proposal A capped local millage rates and mixed these limited local revenues with state revenues to create a minimum per-pupil allotment for each district.

So, districts are still funded by local property taxes — on “nonhomestead property” — but the state uses its own resources to ensure that every district gets at least a certain level of funding per pupil. This amount is a district’s foundation allowance.

As part of the deal made to advance Proposal A, lawmakers agreed that the higher funded districts at the time would not have their funding cut — the state would hold them harmless. The plan instead was to increase funding for relatively lower funded districts at a faster rate, so these districts would eventually (but very slowly) catch up to their higher funded counterparts.

At the time, the gap between the richest and poorest districts was $7,532 per pupil. That chasm has been closed by almost $3,000. And the share of conventional districts and charter schools funded at the minimum foundation allowance rate (currently $7,511 per pupil) has grown from less than half to 84 percent. The graph below from the Senate Fiscal Agency displays these changes over time, through the 2014-15 school year.

Proposal A’s plan has mostly worked. Foundation allowances are more equitable today than they used to be. Four out of every five school districts and charter schools receive the same sum through Proposal A’s foundation allowance. And 95 percent of school districts get between the minimum of $7,511 and $8,229. This convergence shows what an outlier the highly funded districts are: Only 43 districts, or 5 percent, get more than an $8,229 foundation allowance.

In no way is the funding distribution as off-kilter as it was more than 20 years ago. Whether the gap has been closing quickly enough is a fair point for discussion. But one needs to keep in mind the costs associated with a more dramatic approach to equalizing all foundation allowances.

Using the latest available data from the state, from the 2015-16 school year, we can estimate how much districts and charter schools would gain if funding for the rich districts were reduced to the minimum level. If all the money spent on foundation allowances were divided equally among every district, the minimum per-pupil rate of $7,391 would grow by roughly $300, or about 4 percent. If the state used this method to equalize foundation allowances, there’d be a few dozen school districts much worse off (those whose funding was cut back significantly). Most other districts would be only a little better off financially.

Alternately, the state could equalize funding by bringing all the lower funded districts up to the level of the Birminghams of the world. But this plan is untenable: To fund Traverse City, 400 other conventional districts, and more than 300 charter schools at Birmingham’s foundation allowance of roughly $12,000 would require an additional $6.42 billion in tax dollars. The state would need to double the revenue it receives from the state’s sales tax. A 100 percent sales tax hike isn’t likely to fly with the Legislature or voters.

There are other approaches that lie between these two extremes. For instance, bringing up all districts to the “hold harmless” level of $8,169 per pupil would cost nearly $900 million more and leave only 43 districts funded above the norm. Those 43 districts serve one-ninth of Michigan public school students.

It’s important to remember too that, even by the admission of the recently released education adequacy study, any such funding increases would have at most a small effect on student achievement. Sure, school officials’ jobs would get a little easier; they’d have fewer difficult budgetary decisions to make. But based on their track record, there’s no guarantee that schools would spend this extra cash on things that would boost student learning.

These are the kinds of considerations that have to be made when thinking about altering Michigan’s school funding system. It’s easy to highlight lingering gaps between a select few wealthy outliers and the average school district. It’s a greater challenge to accelerate Proposal A’s equalizing effect with an acceptable approach that will make a meaningful difference.

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