Brown: Restore $1 billion in K-12 funding
CASS CITY - With a State Budget due June 1, former Michigan House Representative Terry Brown, again a candidate, called for a meeting at the Rawson Memorial Library to send the message to the current legislators that "Michigan values education." Brown called on legislators to restore nearly $1 billion in funding that was taken away from Michigan schools last year. A majority of the money raided from schools has been eliminated again in the latest budget proposal, Brown noted.
"We need educated citizens who have a vision for the future. A $1 billion-dollar cut is unacceptable. We’re not going to sit by quietly and let that happen. All of us have to be involved."
House and Senate Republicans are offering slightly different versions of the education budget, but both divert money out of the School Aid Fund for non-K- 12 programs. Under the House Republicans’ education budget plan, Brown stated, the Bad Axe Public Schools would receive about $350,000 less in per-pupil funding than in 2010- 11.
But, Brown said the focus should be on "a high-quality education system that can give our kids the education and skills they need to compete for jobs." Brown noted that most jobs in Michigan require a college education.
Also attending the meeting were three local superintendents: Jeff Hartel, Cass City; Mike McLaughlin, Kingston; and Steve Ley, Akron-Fairgrove; as well as Rawson Memorial Library Director Kate Van Auken.
“These continued cuts to our local schools have put our children’s future at risk,” said Jeff Hartel, superintendent of Cass City Public Schools. “We’ve had to cut our budgets drastically, to the point we may soon be endangering our students’ ability to compete in the 21st-century economy.”
Hartel said the current legislators "don't have our backs." He said the recent drop of $470 per pupil cost Cass City $1 million and had a "huge impact' - it meant closing a building "just to survive" and try to keep class size under 35. Hartel also said factors include unfunded mandates, program requirements, a declining population as well as rising retirement costs. He added that $1 million out of a budget just under $10 is significant.
At Kingston, Superintendent Mike McLaughlin said the reduction impacted high school intervention and support programs, which is making it "very difficult for us to fulfill our mission."
Akron-Fairgrove Superintendent Steve Ley said the district has made concessions and likely still more are ahead. "But, the cupboard is bare," he said. Ley also said the current funding level makes it almost impossible to bring in or keep up on technology; and he described the overall situation as a downward spiral but "you can't run fast enough to keep up."
Ley also touched upon a related subject of "cyberschooling" — which, he said, hasn't proven itself and that he feels it is only for a select few who are self-motivated and highly-disciplined. Hartel added that public schools lose funding to the cyberschools and that these businesses are very often located in another state for a double whammy to the Michign economy. Brown noted that it's difficult to monitor who is doing the work online.
Rawson Memorial Library Director Kate Van Auken told how her daughter planned out her high school courses, but then the school had to determine what to cut and what to keep. She asked rhetorically: “As Michigan attempts to build its economy and attract businesses, where will the educated workers come from?”
Brown said one net effect School Aid Fund transfer from K-12 to P-20 (preschool through college) uses meant a loss of $650 per K-12 student. Brown said he wants all K-12 funding restored.
“If money (was) not diverted out of the School Aid Fund this year, per-pupil funding would have gone up by $650, without any additional taxes on middleclass families, homeowners or seniors,” Brown stated.
He also said the impact of giving tax breaks to corporations without requiring job creation was felt at the district level; schools have closed, class sizes have increased and school staffing levels have seen cuts.
“We’ve seen school district after school district eliminate programs, lay off teachers and squeeze more students into each classroom. These devastating cuts were brought on because legislators gave away $1.8 billion in no-strings-attached tax cuts to corporate special interests,” he said.
Brown related how one of the first issues he was called upon to address was the condition of education in Tuscola County. Brown chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid when he previously served in the Legislature.
“At a time when we need to be putting more resources into our classrooms, Lansing politicians are taking resources away from our kids,” Brown said. “They’ve lost sight of what middle-class families in Tuscola County and Huron County really want: a high-quality education system that can give our kids the education and skills they need to compete for jobs.”