Snyder school budget cuts cast shadow on today's education address

MEA president responds to governor’s special message on education

EAST LANSING, Mich., April 27, 2011 –Against a backdrop of drastic cuts to education funding, Gov. Rick Snyder revealed his education plan for Michigan today, covering a variety of topics including early childhood education, teacher training, tenure, merit pay, charter schools and more.

“The governor covered a huge spectrum of education issues,” said MEA President Iris K. Salters. “It’s encouraging that he supports our views on early childhood education, anti-bullying and the need for administrator certification, all of which we outlined in our A+ Agenda earlier this year.

“But Gov. Snyder provided 13 pages of ideas – and expects them to get done while he’s cutting more than $800 million from K-12 and higher education.  That simply doesn’t make sense.”

Neither this education plan nor the governor’s budget recognizes the sacrifices and reforms already made by school districts and their employees.  His offer of $300 million in financial incentives to districts that take steps to control employee benefits or employ other cost-cutting measures means nothing to financially-strapped school districts cutting staff and programs – nor to the countless districts that have already taken such measures.

Further, his proposal to base funding on student performance is counterproductive.

“Taking resources away from struggling schools that need those funds to reduce class sizes, improve teacher training and restore programs to help students succeed isn’t a sound investment strategy,” Salters said.  “Many of the governor’s funding concepts are seriously flawed.  And many of his ideas about education reform fly in the face of research and best practices.”

The governor placed a lot of emphasis on merit pay for teachers, ignoring that Michigan already has requirements for performance-based pay. Studies conclusively show merit pay doesn’t improve student achievement.

On the issue of tenure, Snyder proposes lengthening the probationary period for new teachers, placing more emphasis on high-stakes student test scores, and putting “ineffective” tenured teachers on a two-year probation.

“Again, the governor fails to recognize that Michigan already has the longest probationary period in the country and that tenure is a process driven by proper evaluation of teachers by administrators,” Salters said.  “Teacher effectiveness should be based on fair, impartial processes and standards.  Student data is and should be a part of the process, but how that works should be decided locally. 

“We’ve already made suggestions to the governor regarding streamlining the process to discharge ineffective teachers in our A+ Agenda that we shared with him, and we look forward to working with him and other lawmakers to accomplish those changes.”

Doing away with seniority-based layoff systems was another topic – and again one where change is unnecessary if proper evaluations are conducted and ineffective teachers are removed under the current law.

“MEA’s concern is the support given to teachers to help them be successful,” Salters said. “From their first days in teacher-prep programs through the day they retire, teachers need training, mentoring and support to ensure they are meeting the needs of students.”

A variety of other policy proposals were included in the governor’s speech, including teacher preparation reform, flexible degree-earning programs, school choice, and lifting the cap on charter schools.

“The details about these various programs must be fully developed for Michigan taxpayers to know if they truly make sense for our schools,” Salters said. “For example, charter schools do not necessarily outperform traditional neighborhood schools.  The governor says that in raising the cap on charters, he expects them ‘to be held to the same rigorous standards as other public schools’.  Exactly how he plans to do that is important to know.”

MEA continues to agree with Snyder’s call for collaboration and partnerships to improve student achievement.

“We’ve already sat down with the governor and talked about real education reform that will prepare students for the workplace and moving Michigan forward,” said Salters. “We’re ready to continue those conversations whenever he is.”

Contact: Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs, 517-337-5566