Will schools ever have enough money?
The Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) and the Michigan Association of School Administrators (MASA) have sent out several “action alerts” to their members in order to warn about possible cuts to the state’s school aid fund in order to balance the state budget.
Below are some select excerpts, sent out as emails to members of the groups:
- “In the coming week the Senate will take action on the Community College Budget. MASA oposes (sic) this budget as it raids $43.9 million from the School Aid Fund to subsidize Community Colleges … Please send a letter to your senator and ask them to oppose this bill!”
- One email alert refers to the discussed funding cut as “unconscionable” and says the group “will not stand for this lack of support for public education."
- “The K-16 Coalition for Michigan’s Future wants a reasonable legislative solution to fully fund Michigan’s K-16 public schools, but we are ready to put our proposal for adequate K-16 school funding on the November ballot if for whatever reason the legislature fails to resolve the issue.”
- “It would be great to pack the Lansing Center with school board members and superintendents that are interested in holding their legislators accountable for this revenue crisis.”
- “[The MASB] cannot just sit idly by while public education is being dismantled across the State."
But these alerts are not referencing the current school funding discussion in Lansing; these warnings are from the budget fight for the 2006-2007 school year. For that school aid budget, the Legislature increased per-pupil funding by $233. It later took back $34 per-pupil mid-year.
Mike Reno is a former school board member from Rochester Community Schools. He says this shows how these types of groups operate.
“These organizations bombard school administrators and school boards with these sorts of emails,” said Reno. “Boards and administrators hear time and time again from their professional organizations that schools are not responsible for any of the financial problem, that it’s all Lansing’s fault.”
But Don Wotruba, deputy director of the MASB, said that the big difference between now and the past is the proposed overall cut. “Districts have less flexibility with money because of the cuts they’ve made over the years.”
“There is less changes [they] can make.”
The alerts also repeatedly mention support for tax increases, or “revenue votes.” One email says, “The positive move of last night was to send the income tax increase bill to conference committee for further discussion.”
Another email has an attachment from the MASB listing their “legislative issues paper.” In the paper, the group urges its members to contact their legislators over House Bill 4359 of 2007. The group said more lobbying was needed because “Legislators still need to know that people support increased revenue. … Without your lobbying for revenue increases quickly [schools] can expect a proration near $100 for the current year and no increases in the foundation or categoricals for next year.” The bill eventually passed.
“No matter how large or small the cut — or increase, for that matter — the public school establishment responds the same way,” said Michael Van Beek, the education policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “If history is any guide, it appears that no amount of money will ever be enough according to the special interest groups that represent schools. They’ll always just call for more.”
Wotruba said his group does support some of the reforms being discussed in Lansing. “[The] 80/20 [health care bill], the step increase bill, tenure reform … we all support. But I still think there are going to be districts who will really have trouble … The problem is the uncertainty.”
“The school boards and school administrators simply parrot the rhetoric back to local papers, who then reprint it without any scrutiny, analysis or fact checking,” Reno said. “Repeat these messages often enough, without any rebuttal, and they seem to go from myth to fact.”
Reno believes that the public school system will never be satisfied, no matter how much funding it receives.
“It is a ‘crisis’ that never ends.”