School funding front and center in an election year

Spring has sprung.  Election season is underway. And, as usual, politicians are trying to shore up their record by allocating more money for public education.  However, after last year’s massive school budget cuts, voters won’t be tricked this year by politicians who are a day late and a dollar short.

This week, Senate and House Appropriations Committees approved budget changes that provide modest increases in K-12 funding. The Senate K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee increased the foundation allowance by a minimum of $104 per pupil, replaced the MEAP as a measure of student growth and limited Gov. Snyder’s best practices grants. The House Appropriations Subcommittee reported out a bill that eliminates performance funding.

In addition to the $104 increase proposed by the Senate, school districts at the lowest funding level could see a $208 per pupil increase. To fund the increases, the Senate Subcommittee approved moving $95 million of Snyder’s performance-based funding into the foundation allowance, leaving some funds for performance grants. The Subcommittee is also using $177 million of Snyder’s proposed $179 million to help cover MPSERS costs for schools. 

The Senate Subcommittee finally listened to education experts who have repeatedly said that the MEAP is not an accurate measure of student growth and pulled funding for it in favor of a new computer-adaptive test that would measure student growth. The new test is expected to cost $18 million as opposed to the $27 million for the MEAP. However, access to computers to take this proposed computerized test is still a question that concerns many experts.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Subcommittee did not include any money for performance funding. While they maintained best practice grants, the Subcommittee now calls for districts to meet six out of eight best practices. Snyder added two new criteria for districts—obtaining competitive bids for non-instructional services and providing physical and health education according to the State Board of Education’s policy.

It’s important to note that neither Subcommittee is talking about an influx of new money for schools. They’re simply playing a shell game with funds already proposed. Education is still severely underfunded; students and teachers are still not getting the resources they need; and the quality of education in Michigan is still at risk.

The only ones benefitting from these maneuvers are the politicians looking for reelection. Their hope is that the public will be fooled by this sudden interest in education and ignore their votes last year to slash $1 billion from public education to pay for a $1.8 billion tax cut for corporate CEOs.