Important education issues will face voters around Michigan
on Tuesday, May 2. As an educational institute, the Mackinac Center seeks to
provide information to help citizens make wise decisions that will provide the
best education possible to Michigan children. Benefiting from
a school election law that consolidates voting to one of four days in the
year, citizens in many Michigan public school districts will have the
opportunity to vote on school board candidates and tax proposals that may
directly impact the quality of the schools in their districts.
Here is a quick checklist for voters who have the future of
schoolchildren in their hands.
1. Is the school board candidate willing to make fiscally sound decisions
that will direct more dollars to the instruction of children and the
preservation of teachers’ jobs?
Scores of districts around the state have
saved public education funds by competitively sourcing certain services,
according to the 2005 biennial survey by the
Michigan Privatization Report. These non-instructional services — including
food, janitorial and transportation — are important for quality education.
Schools must have clean classrooms and other facilities to provide an
environment conducive to learning.
Many school boards are finding that private companies offer these services
at a fraction of the cost. These savings free up money in the district’s budget
to be spent on keeping quality teachers and on other classroom expenditures.
Savings are being realized around the state by
dozens of districts who are replacing Rolls-Royce-type health insurance
plans from the
Michigan Education Special Services Association, a third-party insurance
administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association union.
Districts have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by switching to less
costly, but comparable plans from insurance providers.
Such savings have been
fiercely opposed by the
MEA union in contract negotiations, and
stories have shown that
the union will go to
great lengths to
prevent districts from achieving these savings.
2005 Privatization Survey;
MESSA Reference Page;
Michigan Education Report, "Growing
number of districts seek solutions to costly health insurance," Fall 2005; "A
School Board President Speaks Out."
2. Is the candidate willing to reform collective bargaining?
In Michigan, unionized teachers’ employment details must be
negotiated by teachers unions. Unions such as the MEA have developed
sophisticated collective bargaining methods for more than 30 years. Using
significant resources taken involuntarily from teachers’ paychecks, the union
uses deceptive, high-pressure
tactics on school board members for considering decisions that are in the
interest of advancing educational quality. Issues affected by union bargaining
include raising costs so that fewer funds are available for the classroom,
restricting administrators’ ability to lead high-performing schools and
rewarding effective and ineffective teachers alike.
FURTHER READING: "Reform
Collective Bargaining," in "Six
Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts"; "Union
Contract Prevents Budget and Classroom Reforms."
3. Does the candidate want to extend to the district the benefits of
competition in Michigan’s limited education market?
Competition has been shown to improve educational quality. This is
especially true in states and countries where parents are given significant
freedom to choose the best and safest schools for their children. However, the
principle extends even to an education system in which parents’ options are
limited, such as we have in Michigan.
Would the candidate support or oppose the establishment of
a charter school to give district parents more options close to home? If elected, would the
school board member advocate opening schools to cross-district choice so that
parents in surrounding districts could have the opportunity to give their children
a quality education in the district’s schools? Does the candidate
understand how competition with neighboring districts can foster improvement of
her district’s educational quality and fiscal management?
FURTHER READING: "The
Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts"; "Incentives Can Enhance Educational Quality and Reduce Costs"; "Myth #8: School Choice Does Not Improve Education," in "The Case for Choice in Schooling."
4. Is the candidate interested in working with advisers to consider how best
to maximize resources?
Many business people in the community, as well as education
and finance specialists, have the expertise necessary to navigate the sometimes
tricky waters of
managing school budgets. Is the school board member willing to seek outside
help? For several years, experts at the Mackinac Center have
successfully helped Michigan school districts
confronting fiscal crises, and the Center remains willing to help districts.
FURTHER READING: "Private
Group Offers to Manage Schools"; "Help
for a School District."
5. Does the proposal take account of empirical evidence about education
spending and student achievement?
Some districts are seeking to increase capital revenues
with local millages. Some even say that the 1994 school finance reform known as
"Proposal A" limited or cut districts’ revenue. This ignores statewide
data that show local and state education revenues have increased an average
of about 55 percent since 1994. And it neglects the fact that revenues for
capital expenditures have increased 217 percent since Proposal A. Furthermore,
empirical evidence has demonstrated that more education spending does not
yield higher student achievement. Although per-pupil expenditures have more than
doubled in Michigan since 1970 when adjusted for inflation, student performance remains stagnant.
FURTHER READING: "Jen
and the Art of Education."
If voters and school board members objectively and
thoughtfully considered these questions, educational quality and parents’
satisfaction in Michigan would take a significant step forward.
Ryan S. Olson is director of
education policy at the the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research
and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint
in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center
are properly cited.