State budget & taxes

Articles about state budget and tax policies, and how they affect school aid funding.

2013 AAPS School Cuts - What gives?

Here we go again. Another round of cuts to our historically excellent schools and A2 parents are pulling their hair out. Our complaints to the district mount about increased class size, reduced transportation, too much testing and decreased core or specials offerings. And we cry out “Why is AAPS doing this to us? What can we do?”

The root of all evil is not the AAPS district. Whatever the district’s faults may be, the cuts that threaten our kids’ high quality education are the result of years of mismanagement and current anti-public school ideology at the state level. Yes, Virginia, it is the State’s fault.

A little proposition named “A” is where our tale begins. In 1994 the State Legislature came up with a magical plan – unlike any the nation had ever seen – to centralize funding of schools to be distributed from Lansing on a per pupil basis. Its promise was to bring struggling districts up to the level of successful districts like Ann Arbor. It shifted school funding from locally levied property tax to state administered sales tax – restricting districts from raising money locally for their highest cost, instruction.

The villain of our story is “Unfunded Mandate” and his sinister cousin, “Lack of Political Will”. The most corrosive mandate was the seemingly minuscule portion of every dollar required from districts for all state employees retirement contribution (MPSERS). Just like the cost of gas and milk, that number began rising but there was no political will in Lansing to address the increasing chunk that inflation plus this unfunded mandate, among others, would take from our kids’ schools. By last year, the MPSERS contribution had skyrocketed to $1,366 of the district’s $9,020 per pupil allowance. This is crippling every district in the state. (BTW… other states do not link their retirement spending to a per pupil allowance.)

Feed a fever, starve a district. In the spirit of prop A our public schools are all lumped together while at the same time there’s a fever of excitement over the “charter” possibilities. The problem is because of per pupil funding our tax dollars go to “for-profit” charter school businesses that don’t have to meet all the same mandates as public schools. Remember education companies exist first and foremost to make money and not to educate every kid equally regardless of their individual needs. Lansing is working to pass piecemeal bills that make it easier for charters to avoid the same standards as public education and effectively cannibalize our community schools under the guise of choice.

It takes a village. Where would we be without the unifying presence of our public schools? We support our teams, we debate the merits of Everyday Math, we go to those amazing concerts and plays and we do the artwalk downtown. We come together with our community to ensure our kid and every other kid (even the one whose parents we don’t like or understand) has a chance to have the same high quality foundation of knowledge and experience that will prepare them to be successful citizens.

Think locally but act state-wide. As we face millions of dollars in cuts and a superintendent search let’s hold our district accountable but also give the board and administrators the same benefit of the doubt and support we would want in our own jobs. The AAPS strategic plan is focused on a central theme of individualized learning for every student but they cannot get there in a structural deficit.

So let’s direct our energies at the real source of the problem… Lansing.

  • Enlist our friends and family around the state to relentlessly lobby the governor and the legislature.
  • Tell the state that Michiganders support more funding to keep pace with inflation, to fund mandated government requirements and to institute proven education reforms like reducing class size.
  • Demand that education experts in curriculum and finance design our school funding policies – not ideologues or “for-profit” special interests.
  • Tell Lansing that democracy is served only by a public education system which holds all K-12 learning to the same standard and funds it for success.

Here’s how to contact Governor Synder and the Legislature: click the “Take Action” link at the top of the page!

Facing a clouded future: options

Part II: The problem, and a glimpse at solutions we might consider

The poor state of Michigan’s economy, combined with bad tax policy choices in earlier years, mean that school districts across Michigan are having to make huge cuts after years of belt-tightening. The defeat of the Washtenaw Schools Millage has removed one option we had to soften the blow.

But remember: we still have kids to educate. AAPS’s total enrollment actually increased this year. Unlike, say, the auto industry, our schools are not in trouble because of a lack of customers. Demand for a good education has never been higher.

Moving forward, we have two issues on each of two levels: revenues and costs, at the local and state levels. Let’s look at each.

Facing a clouded future

Part I: Reflections on the defeat of the Washtenaw Schools Millage

We as a community will be faced with unpalatable choices as we try to close the $15 to $17 million budget gap that Ann Arbor’s schools will face over the next year, with more cuts to come in the coming years. But before we can make sound choices, we must have a real understanding of what our schools do and what resources that requires. And in order to do that, we must get past the caricatures which were painted during the millage campaign and instead speak to each other as real people with real concerns.

It's September 10th: do you know where your school's funding is?

Reposted from Michigan Parents for Schools (
Our lawmakers are once again at a crossroads, figuring out how to manage the tremendous decline in revenues for public services, including schools. Time is running out.

Constant readers will notice the shortage of news on the state K-12 education budget in recent months. There is a good reason: there hasn’t been any.

Schools are the foundation of our future

This article was published in the Other Voices series of op-ed columns by the Ann Arbor News on Sunday, June 14, 2009. The version posted on the web site is available here.

The school budget news from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and other communities in Washtenaw County is disturbing, and for good reason. School officials say that in the next two years we will all be driving over the edge of a “funding cliff” that threatens to injure our public schools for years to come. Some school districts are on the brink of failure, while others are having to cut teaching staff for the first time in recent memory. The depth of the coming crisis varies for each district, but the crisis is coming just the same. The question is, should we try to do something about it? Should we the people, the taxpayers, be worried?

The answer should be a resounding “YES!”

What's on the ballot? Part II - The Sinking Fund

Ballot proposals always seem to be written so that only a lawyer could understand them. Anyway, who has time to read them while people tap their feet waiting for your voting booth? Fear not, dear reader – we’re here to help.

Budget deal saves schools - for now

Late Friday, Michigan’s top lawmakers hammered out a deal which both prevents last-minute cuts to schools and closes the current year’s deficit without a tax increase, but at a cost. Most of the cuts from the regular state budget went to fund increases for health care and prison beds, both of which are projected to increase because of the poor economy. To fill the overall gap, the Legislature intends to sell rights to some future tobacco settlement fund revenues (“securitize” these revenues), among other things. Closing the current year’s deficit without a tax increase is evidently part of an agreement with Senate Republicans not to block a vote on an income tax increase for fiscal 2008.

Read the rest of this story on the “Michigan Parents for Schools website”:

Alert! School funding crisis needs solution now!

Take action now!

Make your voices heard!

The school funding situation is at a critical juncture. State officials have just finished their review of expected tax collections. They found that revenues earmarked for schools will come in even lower than expected in January — $153 million lower than the earlier estimates that were already revised downward. That means a total shortfall of as much as $560 million for this year and cuts to districts of $116 per pupil right at the end of the year unless new money is found.

See the rest of this action alert on the Michigan Parents for Schools web site.

News Analysis: Looking for Cover

The recent fuss in the Legislature with budget agreements that weren’t and battling press releases has made it fairly clear that the Republican majority in the Senate is looking for cover on increasing taxes, but Democratic lawmakers are reluctant to give it to them.

See the rest of this story on the Michigan Parents for Schools web site:

Clock starts ticking on School Aid cuts

Gov. Granholm made it official – aid to school districts will be cut by June 1st unless the Legislature acts. Speaking to the news media, the governor reiterated her frustration with the Legislature’s inaction. “Nobody is more frustrated than I am,” she said. “The Legislature has not filled that hole. The clock starts ticking today.” If other funds are not found, the cuts would amount to approximately $122 per pupil taken out of school districts’ final aid payments, and a further $8 million in cuts to intermediate school districts.