A statewide survey of Michigan residents questions just how much of a priority school funding is in the face of the struggling economy.
The Michigan State University State-of-the-State survey recently released showed 56.7 percent of those surveyed said jobs/unemployment/work/wages was the most important issue facing the governor and Legislature. No. 2 was economic growth/stimulating the economy at 12.9 percent. Only 7.3 percent said school funding/school finances was the most important issue, and 6.4 percent said education quality/education standards were the top concern.
"The education lobby has been working very hard to prop up the myth that education is the No. 1 concern for citizens and policymakers in Lansing," said Charlie Owens, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "But the facts show otherwise. When citizens are actually asked what is most important, education doesn't fare as well."
Owens said any budget-balance approach that states education can't be cut "is not based on reality and doesn't reflect public opinion."
In an Op-Ed in The Detroit News, Michigan Education Association President Iris Salters called on politicians to make "education a priority."
"That's not to say every elected official will embrace the message," Salters wrote about the impact of an MEA rally that drew 3,500 people at the State Capitol. "There will be some who discard the will of the people they are supposed to represent."
In 2001, 41.7 percent of those surveyed in the State of the State poll said education quality and school finances was the top priority. That same year, only 10.5 percent said jobs and economic growth was the top concern.
But concerns over jobs has grown at the expense of schools. In 2009, only 7.1 percent said education quality/school finances was a top concern, and that number jumped to 13.7 percent in 2010.
"You can see that, a decade ago, the education issues were much more salient in the minds of our survey respondents," Charles Ballard, the MSU economics professor who oversaw the survey, wrote in an e-mail. "But then, as the years went by and Michigan's economy kept losing jobs, the "jobs/unemployment" response got stronger and stronger, and the "education quality/school funding" answer got weaker and weaker. Finally, when we compare 2009 and 2010, it looks like that trend has come to an end. I think that's a good sign. Of course I understand why people are very concerned about the jobs situation, but I believe that the jobs of five or ten or twenty years from now are going to come from today's educational system."
Jack McHugh, senior legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center For Public Policy, said school funding is not the problem.
"Defenders of the public school status quo put the cart before the horse: Without tax, spending, regulatory and labor law reforms that make Michigan attractive to investors and entrepreneurs who might create jobs here, our citizens will need U-Hauls more than further increases in school spending," McHugh wrote in an e-mail.
"Our teachers are already the highest paid in the nation relative to the incomes of the population that supports them, so the public already senses a disconnect when educrats play Chicken Little at every mention of those urgent reforms. The real issue isn't 'reform and tax cuts vs. schools'; it's 'don't you dare touch lucrative school employee benefits.' "