Gov. Snyder got only part of the cost reductions that he was initially asking for in next year’s K-12 budget, despite huge Republican majorities in the Legislature. While it may not be surprising that Democrats were unanimously opposed to his spending reform proposal, an overlooked obstacle he was facing is the opposition to K-12 reforms coming from his own party. It’s a very old problem.
In 1995, a $4,200 minimum per-pupil K-12 allowance was created by state government to be paid for each student attending a public school in Michigan. If adjusted for inflation, schools would have been getting $6,198 per kid in 2011. In reality, they got considerably more: $7,316 per pupil. Even though this is the single most costly service provided by state government, the minimum allowance has increase well ahead of inflation during its lifetime, which includes more than a decade of one of the worst economies in Michigan history and repeated budget showdowns at the state Capitol. This trend has held true through Republican and Democrat governors and through other periods when Republicans controlled the entire Legislature and governor’s office.
Next year, for just the second time in 17 years, the minimum allowance will indeed go down, though not by as much as what the governor requested. The lifetime minimum foundation allowance growth will still remain well ahead of inflation under the smaller cut, and would have done so if the governor’s plan had been enacted.
When it came time to approve this budget with the smaller cut than the governor had asked for, Democrats were still unanimous in their opposition, and there were still 9 Republicans willing to join them.
In the House, four Republicans broke ranks: Kurt Heise of Plymouth, Holly Hughes of Montague, Paul Muxlow of Brown City and Patrick Somerville of New Boston. In the Senate, five Republicans did the same: Bruce Caswell of Hillsdale, Geoff Hansen of Hart, Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, Mike Nofs of Battle Creek and Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights.
There is a 63-47 GOP advantage in the Michigan House, and this is dwarfed by a 26-12 Republican supermajority in the Senate.
The names of some of those Republicans voting against the cut have appeared in other recent legislative school reform battles:
- Currently, teachers get automatic raises (step raises) even after the union contract authorizing them has expired. In May, the Legislature approved a bill that would put a stop to the automatic pay hikes in this circumstance.Once again, every Democrat in the House and Senate voted against the reform. In the Senate, five Republicans voted with the Democrats, including the aforementioned Jones, Nofs, Rocca and Caswell.
- A Democrat amendment proposed to make it illegal for emergency financial managers to receive any other form of income while they are tasked with turning around a financially troubled school district. The amendment was defeated in the Senate on a mostly party-line vote, with most Republicans voting against the restriction on outside sources of income for EFMs.But five Republicans voted with the Democrats in favor of the amendment, including Nofs, Rocca and Caswell.
- In some Michigan school districts, union contracts require taxpayers to pay some or all of the salary for teacher union negotiators. These union stewards are often on ‘release time,’ meaning that they spend their days on union business and not teaching kids. In April, the Michigan House approved a bill to prohibit this practice.Not a single Democrat voted for it, but three Republicans crossed over and voted with Democrats against the bill, including Rep. Muxlow.
And some of these Republican names show up on the same side of the ledger with the Democrats during K-12 reform votes in previous years:
- A 2009 bill proposed to retain “First Class District” privileges for the Detroit Public Schools, even though the district had slipped below the population threshold for keeping this status. Among other advantages, this would have meant that the district would retain the ability to keep keep out additional charter schools from competing with DPS. Democrat support for the bill was unanimous, and most Republicans were opposed.However, there were five GOP lawmakers who voted with the Democrats in favor of first class status for DPS, and two of them were Jones and Rocca (both were then members of the House of Representatives).
- Another 2009 bill in the House proposed to allow school districts to ask for “sinking fund” millage votes. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce was vehemently opposed to the bill and estimated that one version of the policy could hook taxpayers for an additional $3.2 billion to $7.6 billion in property tax hikes. The overwhelming majority of Democrats voted for the bill, with the vast majority of Republicans voting against it.However, 11 Republicans voted with the Democrats to create the sinking fund tax option, and two of them were Hansen and Rocca (both House members at the time).
- A 2008 K-12 spending bill was designed by the Democrats then controlling the House of Representatives so that it deliberately overspent available revenue by more than $32 million. All but one Democrat voted for the overspending budget, and nearly all Republicans voted against it.But five Republicans voted for it, and one of them was Rocca.