Legislative efforts to control public education costs generated the usual protests and hyperbole.
Snyder’s proposals for public education spending generated a harsh but
predictable reaction from the K-12 establishment. In newspaper stories across
the state and in rallies at the Capitol, the common refrain has been that
districts have already “cut to the bone.” However, important financial details
rarely appear in these stories. Public education is the most expensive item
paid for by state government with state tax dollars, and the cost of paying
employees at public schools accounts for almost 80 percent of this spending. A
serious effort to restrain the cost of government must address its most
But readers of the
Mackinac Center’s online daily news site know these details. Dozens of school
officials’ outlandish statements in local newspapers have been debunked this
spring because of the work of Michigan Capitol Confidential lead reporter Tom
Gantert, using the Mackinac Center’s database of school union contracts and the
technical expertise of Education Policy Director Michael Van Beek.
For example, a Michigan
Education Association official claimed that some first-year teachers in the
Lansing School District were being paid wages that were below the poverty line.
CapCon was able to inform its readers that the federal poverty line for a
single person was $11,351, while the starting salary of a new teacher in the
district last year was $35,712.
In numerous other
districts, superintendents or other officials claimed their budgets had been
repeatedly cut over the years. The analysis and reporting of Van Beek and
Gantert time and again showed that district budgets had actually increased year
after year. Some of these articles were picked up by other media outlets.
Health insurance costs
are a persistently non-reported story. When school administrators and union
officials are quoted about the serious cuts allegedly made by their districts,
CapCon points out that virtually all teacher union contracts still don’t
require employees to pay more than a few percentage points of their own health
insurance premiums, and a majority require no employee contribution at all. In
contrast, private-sector workers in Michigan pay an average of 21 percent of
their health insurance costs.
More than 346,000 unique
visitors have turned to the CapCon news site since January 1. The Facebook page
now has more than 11,000 fans — more than the Detroit Free Press and The
Detroit News. Thanks to the Center’s research and reporting efforts, the days
when school officials could expect uncritical coverage of their “underfunded”
claims are over.