Michigan House Education Committee Chair Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, has responded to the talking points of those who are up in arms over this year's K-12 budget. For the first time in a decade and a half, the budget included a per-pupil cut to the state's K-12 foundation grant.
Scott, whose district is split about 50-50 GOP and Democratic, is currently facing a recall. If the recall petitions handed in this past Friday pass inspection, the attempt to remove him from office will be on the November ballot. The recall is primarily over the K-12 budget. The Michigan Education Association (MEA) reportedly contributed at least $25,000 to the petition-gathering effort.
When federal dollars are included, Michigan's spent an average of $11,987 per K-12 pupil in 2010.
At the request of Capitol Confidential, Scott responded to a list of talking points created by the “Friends of Kent County Schools” website. The talking points are for those upset because they claim that Michigan schools aren't getting enough taxpayer dollars as a result of the budget process that Scott supported. The website encourages readers to contact lawmakers and the governor with their concerns.
Interestingly, the Comstock Park Public Schools’ taxpayer-financed website includes a “Contact Legislators” page with an explicit hyperlink directly to the “Friends of Kent County Schools” website — and thus the talking points and the higher spending advocacy. Whether or not it is a violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act for a school district to link to such a website is apparently a gray area of the law. Nonetheless, the website page is very straightforward.
It states the following:
“Friends of Kent County Schools is a private organization whose supporters are parents, community leaders, educators and elected school board members who are actively engaged in the effort to ensure a quality educational experience for all students. Its members represent all school districts within Kent ISD and the broader school community. All organizational funding comes from private donations. No public funds are used to promote the objectives of Friends of Kent County Schools.”
A little further down the page is a section labeled “Talking Points on the K-12 Budget Agreement.” The site asks those on its side of the K-12 funding debate to: “Please express these key points in meetings with your legislators, in letters to legislators, and in letters to conference committee members. ...” This part of the website obviously pertained to earlier this year before the budget was finalized.
The following are the talking points from the website — and Scott’s responses to each.
Point 1: Legislators earlier this year transferred $900 million from the School Aid Fund to fund general fund programs.
Scott responds: “This simply isn't true. People in the education community like to say we transferred money from the general fund and so forth. However, until this year universities were funded out of the general fund not the school aid fund. The Legislature decided this year to transition to a system of school funding where kindergarten through college is funded out of the School Aid Fund (SAF). There was no transfer of money between funds, and the SAF is still being used exclusively for education.”
Point 2: The money — $900 million — to restore the school aid fund, avoid cuts, and make an additional investment in our children’s education is available and should be returned to the school aid fund.
Scott responds: “The state does not simply have $900 million lying around. The money in the school aid fund is being used for exactly what this claim proposes.”
Point 3: The $310 million legislative leaders propose to return to the school aid fund is one-third of the money available and is an insult to our children.
Scott responds: “Again there was never any money taken out or put back in the SAF. The money that goes into the SAF is constitutionally set aside for schools. When the May revenue numbers were higher than expected, the Legislature appropriated the increase in SAF revenue to education purposes.
Point 4: These funds are going to be dedicated to one time uses — to an incentive fund and to offset dramatic increases in retirement expense[s].
Scott responds: “The increased funding was done as a one-time appropriation because the state cannot guarantee how much revenue it will bring in next year.”
Point 5: This $310 million returned to the school aid fund will not go toward the foundation grant, which is to be rebased from the current $7,316 to $6,846. This represents a permanent reduction to schools and will return school funding to 2005-2006 levels. Every year the foundation grant is not at $7,316 is a year schools were cut. Those dollars will never be recovered.
Scott responds: “The foundation grant was reduced this fiscal year. However, it is not possible to put an exact number on it as it varies slightly from school to school. The average reduction was $300 per pupil. The one-time funding increase for best practices will provide an extra $100 per pupil this year. Also, schools will receive another extra $100 per pupil to deal with out-of-control retirement costs. When you include these two items, most schools will realize a reduction of only $100 per pupil or less. The glaring inaccuracy in this claim is that these cuts are somehow permanent. No appropriation or budget is ever permanent; it changes year to year based on revenues and other factors.”
Point 6: Our children deserve these funds. They — and every school in the state — are expected to achieve what are among the most rigorous graduation requirements in the nation. Cuts made by schools to programs and staff will diminish our students’ ability to succeed.
Scott responds: “Everyone agrees education is important. In this tough budget year, education appropriations were reduced less than any other item in the budget. Also, the state still spends more on education than any other item in the budget.”
Point 7: School Aid Fund money should not be placed in the state rainy day fund, particularly not after years of cuts to education. The $255 million being placed in the rainy day fund ensures schools must cut staff and programs.
Scott responds: “There simply hasn’t been 'years' of cuts to education. This year, the average reduction in funding per school was between 1.2 percent and 1.8 percent. The $255 million in the 'rainy day fund' is likely going to be used to reform our retirement system. This will benefit every district in the state for years.”
Note: The percentages cited here are to the state portion of per-pupil funding. If the federal portion were included, the percentages would be smaller.