John Engler and Geoffrey Fieger differ on many issues, but one thing on which the two
candidates for Michigan governor agree is the central role of education in their campaigns
to win the gubernatorial election on November 3. Polls show education at the top of the
list of concerns of Michigan voters.
Republican incumbent Engler unveiled his proposals for education reform in his
re-election platform, released in September. The proposals called for lifting the cap on
the number of charter schools and otherwise expanding the state's public school choice law
that first created charter schools in 1994. That law limits the number of charter schools
that state universities can authorize to 150.
Engler, who has pledged to make education his top priority if elected to a third term,
also proposed to create "freedom schools" in Detroit. The freedom schools plan
would allow a two-thirds majority of parents or a simple majority of teachers and
principals in Detroit to take over poorly performing public schools and run them
separately from the district's school board.
Democratic challenger Geoffrey Fieger attacked the governor's education proposals in
the Detroit Free Press, calling the freedom schools plan "the single
nuttiest proposal any elected official has ever come up with in Michigan."
Fieger running mate Rep. Jim Agee of Muskegon, a former school superintendent, called
Engler's plan "ludicrous." "Two-thirds of the parents will take over the
schools and do what?" Agee asked in Education Week. The governor's office
conceded that the details of the freedom schools plan had not yet been finalized.
Fieger's plans, which include a two-cent cut in the state sales tax, have also drawn
heavy criticism. Republican state senator Dan DeGrow of Port Huron, who chairs the
subcommittee on public school funding, called the Fieger tax cut "reckless,"
saying a reduction in the sales tax could cost schools as much as $2.3 billion. Michigan
schools receive almost half of their funding from the sales tax.
Fieger has also called for an end to the use of property taxes to fund schools. A
Fieger administration would "uncouple funding of education from property taxes"
because it "produces inherent inequalities" in funding, according to the Fieger
campaign Web site.
Rather, "all lottery monies collected will go directly to education and not to the
general fund," according to the Web site. But that is already the case, according to
the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. A document prepared by Rebecca Ross, a fiscal analyst
and economist with the agency, states that "net lottery revenue," which is total
lottery revenue minus expenses and prize awards, "is earmarked to the School Aid
Fieger brushed aside concerns about school funding. "Schools have nothing to worry
about," he told the Free Press. "I'm the biggest defender of public
schools that's ever been nominated."
Fieger and Agee have also expressed opposition to charter schools, which polls reveal
are popular choices among Michigan parents seeking alternatives to poorly perceived local
schools. Charter schools currently serve 30,000 children throughout the state.
The Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state's largest school employee union,
has endorsed Fieger's candidacy for governor.
"John Engler has demonstrated a pattern of anti-public education policies,"
wrote MEA President Julius Maddox in an August letter to members. "Geoffrey Fieger
will help restore to you and to our public schools the respect and resources necessary to
meet the enormous challenges of the next millenium."
Michigan taxpayers will spend nearly $12 billion this year on public schools, up 51
percent since Gov. Engler took office, according to the Fiscal Year 1999 Executive Budget.
Meanwhile, polls show a majority of Michigan citizens favor proposals to provide
greater parental choice in education, such as school tuition tax credits or vouchers.
Key points of Engler
- Expand Michigan’s charter school law to allow local governments, foundations, and
nonprofit organizations to authorize new schools. Lift the 150-schools cap on the number
of charter schools state universities may authorize.
- Expand public school choice beyond the intermediate school district.
- Create a new state-funded reading program to help students read at grade-level by the
- Develop a report on school finances for taxpayers to include financial data on every
- More information is available on the Engler campaign’s Web site, http://www.englerforgov.com.
Key points of Fieger
- Uncouple funding of education from property taxes.
- Require the majority of lottery monies earmarked for education to be spent on school
teachers and equipment, not administration.
- Repeal laws that assess financial penalties to illegally striking teachers and
strengthen the bargaining power of education employees’ labor unions.
- Strengthen local control of schools by allowing parents to decide whether or not to
implement "School-to-Work" curricula in their districts.
- More information is available on the Fieger campaign’s Web site, http://www.fieger4gov.com.