Hands Off: Don't make local schools pay the price 2015.11.11

Sometimes it seems that state legislators don’t consider the consequences of their actions. In education matters, in particular, is there actually close concern given before a vote is cast—a vote that will result in even greater difficulty for the state’s school districts?

We certainly hope State Rep. Nancy Jenkins and State Sen. Dale Zorn give careful thought to the governor’s idea that perhaps the best way to solve the debt problem facing Detroit Public Schools is to rob every other district in the state. That’s one proposal floated by Gov. Rick Snyder.

After the State of Michigan took over the Detroit school system, debt grew enormously. The district faced a $213 million debt when the State appointed a new board of education and the deficit grew to $515 million the following year. 

The response from Lansing? The person in charge—the state-appointed emergency manager—was given a pair of bonuses totaling $50,000 to supplement his $225,000 wage. Not only did debt balloon under his oversight, but test scores went down.

Gov. Snyder now says $715 million is needed over the next decade to wipe out Detroit’s school debt—plus the matter of $1.5 billion in unfunded pensions—but one of his proposals is to take $50 per pupil in state aid from every other public school district in the state. The governor says that state aid will grow the following year, but that’s nothing to depend upon. It could end up like the current year when extra funding was given while other money was taken away. That generosity came with some asterisks.

Dozens and dozens of districts in Michigan are in the same position as Morenci. Year after year they’re using money from their cash reserves and sliding toward debt.

The governor’s proposal would bring a loss of $35,000 to the Morenci district, further crippling its financial situation. If the governor and legislators can’t see the harm this proposal would do, they’re surprisingly out of touch with the state of public education in Michigan.