Thursday, April 24, 2008

20j Argument Misses the Facts and the Bigger Picture

A recent Traverse City Record-Eagle editorial incorrectly states that Birmingham Schools get $12,303 per student in state funding. That statement is so blatantly incorrect that it’s either an exhibition of astonishing ignorance or purposeful manipulation. The actual amount is $12,188 per student - but that’s not the error. Our funding includes extra LOCAL “hold harmless” property tax revenue (in place prior to Prop. A) which equals $3,877 per student, and other LOCAL revenue (facility rentals, user fees, pay to play, 18 mills of non-homestead tax, and federal sources, etc.) of $2,663. The net remainder of $5,648 is the actual foundation grant per student. Since 1994 Birmingham’s foundation grant has risen by $1,743 (including 20j), the increase for Traverse City has been $2,229 per student; that’s 28% more than Birmingham got - what’s equitable about that?

Payments under 20j represent the a correction of a mistake in the Proposal A legislation to ensure any foundation increases were proportionally equal. From a memo by the Michigan House Fiscal Agency: “Section 20j payments do not increase the gap between the lowest and the highest foundation allowance; it instead ensured that all districts receive the same foundation allowance increase. In fact, during this same period they were initiated, an equity payment of $200 was made to the basic foundation allowance to decrease the gap between the basic and state maximum foundations from $1,500 to $1,300.”

The greater travesty is that we’re all reduced to arguing over table scraps. The proposed $71-$142 foundation allowance increase will not cover the state mandated increase in payments to a teacher pension fund that is $31 BILLION UNDER-FUNDED. That amount represents a tax of nearly $18,780 on every K-12 student in Michigan - a tax levied on the operating budget of every school district in Michigan. Compounding this is an environment which enables the MEA’s insurance subsidiary (MESSA) to earn nearly $350 million over the last three years, or $213 per K-12 student. These are the real issues devastating K-12 funding, not 20j.

Governor Granholm and the whole of the Michigan legislature is happy to see our districts argue over “equity” and 20j because it distracts from the bigger picture, a picture they refuse to confront. We are all cutting back, engaging outside contractors, and desperately trying to preserve innovative educational programs. The Governor, the State Legislators, and the Fat Cats running the MEA have abdicated their responsibility to confront these issues. It’s time we all address the big picture and stop arguing over table scraps. If Michigan doesn’t begin to control mandated costs and and make K-12 funding a true priority we are all doomed to fail in the collective mission of educating our children and ensuring our future.

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