Michigan House Education Committee Needs Math Lesson

closed schoolA few days ago, my friend Christine, from Blogging for Michigan, shared a Michigan GOP House website on which lawmakers claimed that they had increased education spending at the K-12 level. Skeptical, she asked for my take on their assertion and accompanying graphs.

The site declares “It’s Simple Math: State Support for Education is Up” followed by a couple of charts that are nothing more than fuzzy-math, intended to mislead. We both knew that this clearly wasn’t the real “math”, simple or not.

In fact, the math on education funding is not simple in the least.

While we can’t determine exactly how they got their numbers, we certainly may speculate from where they were pulled. Democracy Tree has visited the question of the qualifications and the general intelligence of the GOP-led House Committee on Education, and these dreamy claims and charts stand as testament to the notion that they are lacking in both.

Christine and I revisited the actual numbers on per pupil funding, and reaffirmed what we already knew — they had been incrementally on the rise from 1995 to 2011, until Snyder took office, when they started heading south.

For further clarification, I went to Paul Soma, the Chief Financial and Operating Officer of Traverse City Area Public Schools — one of Michigan’s larger school districts, with 10,000 students. Soma, a Republican, paints an entirely different picture of state funding. He directed me to reputable research, with statistically accurate charts, showing a marked decline in per pupil funding, among other disturbing data.

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan recently published a report titled “Funding for Public Education: The Recent Impact of Increased MPSERS Contributions”. MPSERS is the Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System which is funded by each school district in Michigan. Currently the average school district devotes 14.8 percent of its total revenues to MPSERS compared to 8.7 percent in 2004. Adjusting for inflation, that translates into a 13.1 percent decline in remaining funds available for K-12 education. Factor in per pupil funding cuts and an 11 percent decline in traditional K-12 enrollment, and it’s a formula for a total meltdown of traditional public education in Michigan.

In 2008, only 27 school districts were operating with a budget deficit, That number has doubled to 55 — meaning 10 percent of Michigan’s schools are on the Snyder hit list for intervention. Munetrix found that 62 districts are currently in fiscal distress, with another 109 approaching crisis level — combined, that’s a whopping 30 percent of the state’s schools. 

Not all things are equal in Michigan. Per pupil funding inequities continue to plague most districts, with the majority of schools receiving around $7,000 per pupil, while a few lucky top tier districts enjoy $12,000 each. Yet, the lowest funded schools have the same legacy costs as their rich cousins, and they typically have considerably greater transportation costs because many are out-state rural districts with a larger geographic footprint.

In spite of their insistence that they are increasing education dollars, Gov. Snyder and GOP lawmakers continue to erode public education funding under their proposed budgets for the upcoming school year. Although they claim to be offering modest increases, their proposed budgets cut funding in other areas, such as technology spending.

This GOP behavior is consistent with a national trend of defunding public education. On average, states pay for 90 percent of public education out of state tax revenues. The Census Bureau shows that across the nation, state-level K-12 funding rose by about 5 percent from 1998 to 2008, when it leveled-off or declined.

We know that Gov. Snyder funded his $1.7 billion corporate tax cut through robbing the state of K-12 education dollars. Although, legally prohibited from directly off-setting his tax scheme out of K-12 dollars, he skirted that by first moving the money to higher education, where he then made compensatory cuts from other funds.

Snyder is not alone in his corporate-friendly policies which adversely impact education — it is a national problem. An organization called Pay Up Now, dedicated to making corporations pay their fair share in taxes, found that the recent cuts to education funding are roughly equal to the state taxes unpaid by 155 of the largest U.S. corporations. Their effective average tax rates were 1.8 percent to states, and 3.6 percent to the federal government, with Michigan coming in at 2.16 percent.

Another group, Good Jobs First, found in their report The Job-Creation Shell Game that it was typical for corporations to play state against state seeking the lowest tax rate. — a Faustian bargain too sweet for Republican governors to resist.

Under GOP leadership, public education is under attack from every angle across the country — from union-busting laws, defunding, privatization, charters, cybers, voucher schemes, and this inexplicable new hatred for teachers.  If there was any doubt left about the war on public education and the profession of teaching, Rep. Lisa Posthumus-Lyons, chair of the Michigan House Committee on Education, put that to rest when she recently referred to teachers as “fat pigs”. 

Democracy Tree can think of a few colorful descriptors for Lyons too.

Amy Kerr Hardin






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