Nate Smith-Tyge (@smithtyge):
If you happen to be a regular reader of the local news sections of your local newspaper (yes, all 45 of you), then you've probably noticed that a lot of school districts have issued layoff notices to teachers and paraprofessionals this summer. And it's not just in the districts we have come to expect annual budget issues from, it's most acutely happening in solid suburban districts. My home school district of Plymouth Canton Community Schools (PCCS) is cutting special ed support staff. Meanwhile districts like Livonia, Farmington, Rochester, and Utica are cutting teachers (and support staff - and even trips to the Detroit Zoo). Other districts are closing school buildings (Southfield) to keep pace with budget constraints (this is something PCCS and many other districts have already done so it is not hard to foresee teacher layoffs in the future for Southfield as well). Heck, even the Governor's beloved EAA has had to cut teacher positions. Additionally, some schools are also in prolonged teacher labor disputes that are directly tied to budget constraints (Ann Arbor).
These cuts are not the result of mismanagement by local districts. These districts have no other choices. Their fixed costs (largely legacy costs) continue to climb and state funding is not keeping pace with the rise in costs. Districts have no other source of revenue and therefore must cut positions, close schools, and eliminate important enrichment programs that lead to educational success. This will mean larger class sizes, less learning support, and fewer programs that support holistic learning and development. In other words, the things that make our best districts our best districts.
This is not all occurring by accident or coincidence, this is all the direct result of policy choices made in Lansing. When the School Aid Fund is raided on a regular basis to make up for short falls in the General Fund Budget, thus leaving less money for its intended purpose - funding K-12 education. When the Governor and Legislature use an accounting trick to pass money through local districts that is really just going to the retirement fund (MSPERS) so they can claim they increased funding to education. When Proposal A prohibits any local revenue generation. When under-regulated, low accountability, mostly for-profit, and unlimited charter and cyber schools siphon students (and the funding that goes with them) away from solid neighborhood public schools. When funding formulas provide larger increases to said charters and cybers than local districts. The RESULT is local district budgets have to be cut and real pain is inflicted on students and teachers all while legislators in Lansing can claim the "largest K-12 budget" in state history. Do not buy the Lansing hype - the School Aid Budget is designed to hurt local districts and enhance charters and cybers all while providing accounting trick cover for the Governor and Legislature.
Thankfully, it appears that the nonsense from Lansing is not selling to the citizens of our great state. The Legislature has an 80% disapproval rating and the Governor is below water too. Across the state people are seeing the damage these policy choices are making to their local schools and communities and they've had enough. However, there is not much evidence the Legislature is listening. Last week the Senate passed a road funding bill that increases the gas tax and also raids the General Fund for $700 million dollars per/year ($350 million next year) to also fund road improvements. There is no indication where this $700 million in the GF will come from but remember the GF funds corrections, higher education, local revenue sharing, environmental protection, and general government. What will they cut for roads? Some how, I have a feeling our public universities had better brace for another round of cuts and students and parents should brace for the resulting increase in already high tuition. Of course, none of this is settled yet and the House has an equally bad proposal that uses pie-in-the sky revenue projections and elimination of programs to help the working poor (EITC) to fund their road proposal. So stay tuned, as we see what emerges from Lansing for road funding be ready for more cuts to education and continued local budget crises. And remember it does not have to be this way - who we send to Lansing really matters.