One of the chronic frustrations of Michigan
taxpayers has been understanding how money is spent in Michigan public schools.
The Headlee Amendment and Proposal A are two landmark pieces of Michigan
constitutional reform that were inspired in part by public concern that
escalating property taxes never seemed enough for the public education
In response to this concern, Mackinac Center analysts have
led the charge in encouraging school districts to make their spending
information available online, as well as posted information gathered through
research and Freedom of Information requests. The state appears to be following
our example, with recent legislation requiring school districts to put key
The new requirement includes union contracts, annual
budgets, breakdown of expenditures, health insurance information, association
and lobbying fees and a list of compensation packages of their superintendent
and employees making more than $100,000.
Unfortunately, only about half of Michigan school
districts have complied with the state's requirements so far. Nevertheless, the
impact is already being felt. For example, WJRT TV-12 in Flint used this newly
available information to report on the Harbor Beach school district's
superintendent, whose total compensation package exceeded $300,000. In a
district of only 600 students, this alarmed many local residents, and the
Harbor Beach board of education is now trying to explain its use of taxpayer
dollars in this manner.
This new transparency
requirement comes on the heels of a year-long push by the Mackinac Center to
encourage school districts to post their checkbook registers online. Nearly
every newspaper around the state weighed in on this issue and commended the
Mackinac Center's effort. So far, about 85 school districts have voluntarily
made their registers publicly available.
Some members of the
state Legislature are doing their part and opening up their budgets to the
public as well. Reps. Tom McMillin, Justin Amash, Kevin Elsenheimer and Marty
Knollenberg have all published the names and salaries of their legislative
staffs online. In fact, the Democrat-controlled House also publishes online the
spending accounts of each of its members.
A more transparent
government is a first step toward a more responsive and fiscally responsible
government. Michigan is benefitting from the work of Mackinac Center analysts
to promote and lead this charge.