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!