State should treasure education, fund it

ESCANABA — “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:21.

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Michigan’s education policy has been a disaster. The state’s policy has worked against the best efforts by local school districts.

In 1993 the state wrested education policy away from local school boards by prohibiting local districts from raising revenue. For historical perspective read, “The day Michigan killed public schools (and then created the system we have today)” by Dustin Dwyer, June 9, 2014 WUOM FM. Left with no choice, voters approved a 1994 ballot proposal, Proposal A, establishing state funding of public schools.

The state’s funding of K-12 education has been driven by a fiscal policy that paid for lower taxes on corporations by reducing school funding that then led to reduced competency in reading and math.

In 1994 property taxes were reduced and things went along pretty well until 2002. After 2002 education funding was whittled away. In 2012 Michigan cut corporate taxes and jettisoned the purpose of Proposal A by using about $1 billion from the education fund to pay for corporate tax cuts.

By 2016 Michigan’s education policy, driven by its tax policy, resulted in our state landing in the bottom 10 states in national reading and math results. Michigan was ABSOLUTELY LAST in math and reading improvement.

Adding to the tragedy of the loss of proficiency, nothing was gained.

The October 2014 Citizens Research Council of Michigan Memo noted, “…Overall, the School Aid Fund shouldered a significant amount of the net $1.8 billion business tax cut portion of the tax reform package.”

A February 2017 Brookings Institution study analyzed state educational progress by using the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a congressional mandated program run by a bipartisan board. The NEAP assessed reading and math proficiency in all the nation’s schools. Michigan was in the bottom 10 states in reading and math and Michigan last in proficiency improvement since 2003. L..A..S..T.

There are personal reasons to value education. A 2012 study by the Hamilton Project, a policy initiative of the Brooking Institution, revealed, for example, that high school graduates earn more than non-graduates, are less likely to be disabled, sick or imprisoned, are more likely to be married and have a child outside of poverty, will spend more time with their children and live healthier and longer lives.

Education is important element for local economic growth. An educated population attracts businesses that need skilled workers. In April 2016 the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recommended rebuilding and strengthening education as a method of strengthening a state’s economy. At the same time the CBPP cautioned trying to use tax cuts to improve the economic outlook. CBPP specifically cited broad based tax cuts as ineffective and counter productive to economic growth. “Moreover, broad-based tax cuts in these circumstances can inflict damage on public investments seen by many economists as key avenues for both short- and long-term economic development — including education, infrastructure, and other public investments.”

Michigan pays local school districts a set amount per each student. This foundation allowance can be used to pay operating costs, salaries, and day-to-day expenses. School districts cannot charge tuition or levy taxes to pay for operating expenses.

Additional money is paid to districts to educate students who need special education, however the cost of teaching special education students is greater than the extra revenue paid. Short funding special education adds burden to public schools. “…(U)nder Michigan’s special education funding arrangements, special education students typically represent a financial burden to local districts, and the more costly a student’s disability, the larger the burden.” “Which Districts Get Into Financial Trouble and Why: Michigan’s Story,” 2015 Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.

From 2002 to 2013 the foundation allowance to K-12 education declined by 25% in real dollars. See “Which Districts…” The reduction education funding parallels the state’s decline in educational competency. It is time state officials treasure education and fund it.

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Richard Clark practiced law for 41 years in Escanaba.

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