A few hundred concerned residents and teachers from several school districts met Monday night at to talk with legislators about proposed cuts to public education in the state.
State Reps. Vicki Barnett (D-37th District), Lisa Brown (D-39th District), Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-27th District), Dian Slavens (D-21st District) and state Sen. Vincent Gregory (D-14th District) came out to the Walled Lake Consolidated School District to share their knowledge and offer suggestions about a brace of cuts that could put K-12 education more than a billion and a half dollars back.
Barnett, a member of the state Tax Policy Committee, said school aid in Michigan took a tremendous hit when property values plummeted in recent years, a financial shock that was exacerbated when residents started spending less, which also generated fewer dollars in sales tax revenue. All of that was mechanical, an outgrowth of the bad economy — but what happened legislatively was another matter, she said.
"The Snyder budget has taken $195 million from K-12 education for community colleges and almost $700 million for higher education," Barnett said. "Another $679 million is cut from the School Aid Fund. Altogether, almost $1.6 billion is cut from K-12 education on a permanent basis."
Gov. Rick Snyder's 2012 fiscal year projections include a $1.4 billion general fund shortfall for the state of Michigan, which he is working to close through a series of proposed cuts and changes that include altering the way Michigan's 1994 Proposal A school funding law is implemented.
Barnett said that overall, school districts' foundation allowance — the per-pupil stipend from the state for education — will be cut by $470 per student. She said it was the first time since the passage of Proposal A that the foundation allowance was permanently rolled back. There have been cuts in the past, but never permanent cuts, she said.
Lipton, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said it was fair to say that no one had imagined the kinds of cuts the governor suggested. What became clear over time was that the people putting the budgets together didn't care to hear about the resulting shock.
"We began holding hearings in February and March for public comment, and the testimony was overwhelming that the cuts were going to be devastating to the public schools," said Lipton, a Huntington Woods resident. "The chair cut the testimony short."
Gregory said he felt that the state Senate might be able to return some of the funds to public schools presented in the House version of funding legislation, but he said it would need grassroots help.
"You need to call and contact your representatives," he said. "You have to let them know how you feel. The goal for you has to be continuous pressure."
Farmington Public Schools teacher Steve Korpusik said it was a tough time to be a teacher, mostly because the reforms he was seeing didn't have much to do with educational policy.
"The reform seems more ideological and political," he said. "In other countries, they're getting the politics out of their educational system. Are any of you seeing a brain drain (in terms of people entering teaching)?"
Brown conceded that she had. "Some college and high school students I've talked to are moving away from going into teaching," she said. "Are reforms needed? Sure, but not at the expense of students."
Walled Lake teacher Scott Peterson said a lot of the rhetoric out of Lansing was about "shared sacrifice," and he wanted to know what other groups were being asked to put up the kinds of losses the educational system was.
Lipton said almost none. "The cuts to education and school aid are almost 18 percent," she said. "Corrections will see more money. They're clearly throwing education under the bus."
Barnett said the tax relief to businesses was uneven. She said that 95,000 businesses will see their income taxes disappear, while others will pay a 6 percent income tax. The difference? Their corporate status.
"(General Motors) and Ford will pay that 6 percent," Barnett said. "Chrysler is an LLC (limited liability company), they won't pay that. They've slashed funding to education, they're taxing seniors' pensions and cutting programs to the working poor."
Valerie Morianti of Walled Lake asked which legislators could be contacted to try and change the Republican Governor's mind. Lipton said Reps. Chuck Moss (R-40th District), Bill Rogers (R-66th District) and Speaker Jase Bolger (R-63th District) were good choices, as are Sens. Roger Kahn (R-32nd District) and Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-17th District).
Farmington Schools Superintendent Sue Zurvalek said there's no fixing Michigan without keeping a strong K-12 education system. More than that, she said, Michigan voters made their feelings on the topic felt in 1994 by passing Proposal A, which governed that school district operating costs would be funded on a per-pupil basis from the state's School Aid Fund, which ended local millage elections for operational funding.
"Proposal A was a covenant with the voters," she said. "Local school districts gave up their ability to ask residents for money in return for steady aid from the state."