A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Democratic Rep Cites Questionable Figures in Rant Against GOP's Budget

Rep. Jim Townsend said plan is 'atrocious' when it comes to education funding

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State Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak

Democrat State Rep. Jim Townsend said a GOP budget that does not add as much to the education budget as he would like is "atrocious."

In a June 20 letter to the editor posted on the Royal Oak Patch website, Townsend, a Royal Oak resident, said he has been subjected to misleading election year robo calls. But several of Townsend’s claims in his own letter bear a closer look.

Townsend's letter said: "As a result of last year's cuts, school districts around the state closed schools and cut an estimated 15,000 teacher and other school jobs."

The reality: Townsend is quoting from the June 2011 "We Are The People" report that said 15,000 school employees were laid off. However, that report didn't track how many of those targeted for layoff were brought back, a common practice in nearly every school district in Michigan.

An estimated 75 percent of the teachers targeted to be laid off in the summer of 2011 were recalled in the fall, according to Freedom Of Information Act responses from 550-plus districts to Michigan Capitol Confidential.

For example, the "We Are The People" website states that Brighton planned to lay off 50 teachers, which is correct. What the site didn't do is check back to find out Brighton recalled 35 of those teachers. Some districts laid off nearly every teacher, only to recall almost all of them. Townsend's numbers would conclude that nearly every teacher in certain districts to be gone, which was not the case.

Townsend's letter also said: "What's worse, the Republican school budget also pits school against school, making them compete with each other for incentive-based funding increases. This is unfair to our kids and wrong for our state. Funding should go where it's needed most, not to school districts that already have the financial wherewithal to meet our governor's arbitrarily picked and untested list of 'best practices.' "

The reality: Gov. Rick Snyder's best practices were designed to save districts money and required minimal out-of-pocket expense. Nine out of 10 school districts qualified for the bonus $100 per student money if they met those requirements. There are 550 traditional school districts and 250 charter schools according to date from the Michigan Department of Education. The state listed 719 traditional and charter districts that qualified for the $100 per student best practices bonus.

Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said any district that met the best practices received the $100 per student incentive regardless of how other districts did.

Townsend's letter said: "This has pushed our kids into overflowing classrooms that lack basic supplies. In many instances, our children can no longer take textbooks home to study because there aren't enough of them to go around."

Townsend didn't respond to an email requesting one example of a district that didn't have enough money to provide basic supplies. 

"Each district receives funding to provide all students with a quality education," said Michigan Department of Education Spokeswoman Jan Ellis. "It is responsibility of each local school board and district to determine how students will be taught, what materials will are used, etc."

In 2011, public schools spent $51.4 million on textbooks, according to data from the Michigan Department of Education. That's about 0.2 percent of total expenditures ($19 billion), and about $35 per pupil.

"Since textbooks are such a small part of a district's budget, it's hard to imagine they'd be fiscally unable to provide these basic supplies," Van Beek said.

Townsend's letter said: "After cutting nearly $1 billion a year ago, Republicans this year offered to add back just $200 million. It would be as though a thief stole $100 from your wallet and then gave you back $20, expecting you to be grateful. I didn't fall for that ploy, and I trust my constituents won’t either."

The reality: This analogy assumes that schools should get the same or an increasing amount of money, regardless of what is happening to the state's economy. Any cut at any time is apparently "stolen."

"The 'thief' here also gave schools $13 billion," Van Beek said.

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See also:

Coverage of School District Claiming Cuts

School District Describes $13 Million Increase in Spending As Budget Cut

School District Seeking Tax Hike Challenged on Dollar Figures

When School Fee Hikes Count as ‘Budget Cuts’

Schools Use Creative Accounting to Exaggerate Fiscal Challenges

How $10 Million Spending Increases Become K-12 Budget Cuts

The 'Real World' vs. Public School Budget Cuts

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Star International Academy is the highest ranked high school in Michigan on the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's Contest and Performance report card for both 2014 and 2012. The study and a database of every school in the state can be found at www.Mackinac.org/CAP.

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