Things to do *now*

The immediate crisis facing our public schools is the possibility that the state will have to actually take back money promised to all the school districts in Michigan for the current school year. This “proration,” as the law calls it, is caused by a shortfall in the revenues from taxes earmarked for school funding. It’s important to know that the cuts will happen automatically unless the Governor and Legislature find additional funds to fill the gap.

This would be the third time in the last six years that these midyear cuts have been made.

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Contact your legislators!

An awful lot of us, myself included, have found it hard to believe that our elected representatives really pay attention to the letters, email and messages they get. It’s true that members of the US Congress may have polling data and other information to let them know how their constituents feel. But there isn’t much information like that available for our state legislators, and they really do pay attention to the letters and emails they get. Take this exchange, for example, which took place in the Senate Finance committe on Thursday as they held hearings which the GOP leadership had already managed to get sent to the floor:

When Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) got up to testify,… [Committee Chair Sen. Nancy] Cassis (R-Novi) asked Brater if she could please explain why she thinks the Governor’s proposal is a good idea.

…During her testimony, Brater made the point that everyone has a wish list of sorts, which makes an all-cut plan impossible.

Cassis asked Brater if she knew exactly how many constituents have contacted her about the proposed tax on services and if they were in favor of the proposal. Brater said a lot of people contacted her and almost 100 percent were in favor of the plan.

Then Cassis asked Brater what district she represents.

“It’s a very diverse district,” Brater said, avoiding the pigeonhole of her district as a very liberal district.

Cassis pulled out a list of constituents who have contacted her about the plan. Apparently 397 are opposed to the plan and three are in favor of it. She asked Brater if she could pull out similar documentation.

“My assistant will be happy to go back to my office and measure my stack,” Brater said.

(This appeared in the MIRS News Capitol Capsule of 15 March.)

So it’s really important for all of us, as parents and citizens, to let our legislators know how we feel and what we stand for. That also means that we all need to work hard to let our fellow parents around the state know what’s at stake and to encourage them to contact their legislators. Parents who support secure funding for schools, and who are willing to accept modest new taxes to raise the money for them, need to let their legislators know that we would support such measures in the Legislature. When our schools are at stake, we can’t afford to let “taxes” be a dirty word; we need to press our lawmakers to find a sound and lasting solution to the school funding problem.

 
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We have one month

So far, state government officials have not started the “clock” on automatic school aid cuts, apparently because they hope the Governor’s budget proposals will be adopted in some form. But recent press reports indicate that if a deal on a budget package acceptable to the Governor can’t be worked out by early April, officials will make the formal notifications that start the 30-day countdown to mid-year cuts.

It’s important that we call on our lawmakers to make sure political posturing doesn’t get in the way of finding a comprehensive fix for the broken school funding system. We need to let them know that what is happening now is not acceptable, and that they will need to face up to making some tough decisions – probably including finding new and more stable sources of revenue. We’ll do our part to make sure tax dollars are spent wisely and to encourage more efficiency wherever possible. We’ll also need to take a hard look at other parts of the problem, like pension contributions (set by the state) and health care costs that are rising much faster than inflation. There’s no simple answer, and it will take work on the local level too. But it’s time that everyone in Lansing agreed to stop pretending that we can somehow cut and slash our way to strong, vibrant schools.

 
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Use your voice!

Now that there are real proposals on the table, it’s time to make our voices heard! The Governor’s budget proposal may not solve all the problems, but it places the issue of school funding front and center. Now is the time to let our legislators know that we support immediate action to prevent mid-year cuts and changes to make sure schools are adequately funded in the future.

Contact your senators and legislators: we have contact information here:
http://www.aaparentsforschools.org/?q=node/5

It’s important to let them know that we’re willing to put our wallets where our mouths are, and that new or restructured taxes, if wisely used, will allow us to make the investment in education that our public schools deserves.

 
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What's on the table

The midyear cuts would be worse than we were all thinking last fall. Using the tax revenue estimates prepared by state officials in January, the projected spending cuts for this year would be $224 per pupil if nothing else is done to change it. This would wipe out the increase in spending granted for this year ($210) and then some. For the Ann Arbor Public schools, this would translate into $3.7 million in cuts we would have to absorb for this school year, according to Superintendent Todd Roberts.

In her 2008 Budget package, Governor Granholm proposed measures to prevent the cuts, half of which come from re-figuring pension fund requirements and the remainder from new or increased taxes. (See our discussion of the budget proposal here: http://www.aaparentsforschools.org/?q=node/4 ) While no moves were made to increase income or property taxes, the new funds would require passage of a 2% tax on services and a replacement for the Single Business Tax, neither of which will be easy.

There is also a bill in the House appropriations committee that simply appropriates the missing funds from the state’s General Fund (the main state budget), but with the General Fund anticipating a large deficit, this measure would pit school funding against all other state spending obligations. (See House Bill 4116).

It’s difficult to imagine any measure to plug this year’s shortfall that won’t involve raising new revenue somehow. If we, as citizens, want our lawmakers to put a priority on education, then we need to give them the courage to tackle the problem even if there are no easy answers.