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

Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook twice in the last three months has misrepresented the facts about public school funding in Michigan's two largest newspapers.

In a May 13 op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, Cook wrote, "We’ve had two years of business tax cuts and cuts to our schools." However, the Michigan School Aid budget was cut only in 2011-12, and has been increased in 2012-13 and is projected to increase in 2013-14.

Cook did it again with his July 24 "Labor Voices" column in The Detroit News when he made two factual errors.

Cook wrote: "At the end of the 2010-11 school year, more than sixty districts closed their books in the red."

In 2010-11, there were 48 districts with a deficit, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Cook also wrote: "Shortly after taking office, one of Snyder's bold initiatives to ‘reinvent Michigan’ was to cut over $1 billion from the education budget."

The School Aid budget was never cut by $1 billion. It dropped from $12.98 billion in 2010-11 to $12.75 billion in 2011-12, a decrease of about $235 million. In 2013-14, the state is expected to spend $13.37 billion on the School Aid budget. At the same time, Michigan public schools are serving fewer students, down 2.5 percent since 2011.

According to the Senate Fiscal Agency analysis of the tax deal, there was $662.1 million in School Aid Fund cuts due to the tax changes. The School Aid Fund includes K-12 schools and provides some funding for community colleges and state universities.

However, the tax plan also raised an additional $438 million for the general fund in fiscal 2013, and $204 million more from the general fund was spent on schools, according to James Hohman, fiscal policy analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Cook didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Detroit News Editorial Page Editor Nolan Finley said in an email the newspaper does the best it can to verify accuracy.

“It’s not feasible to check every statement in every column we run, but we will certainly give Mr. Cook more scrutiny in the future,” Finley wrote.

There were other claims made by Cook in the July 24 piece that are not supported by Michigan Department of Education reports.

For example, Cook wrote: “While data is not in for the school year that just ended, you can be sure that number has grown substantially, with many more headed for financial chaos.”

MDE Spokeswoman Jan Ellis said in an email in June that there are 49 school districts in deficit and six others have told the state they also will be in deficit, meaning a total of 55 districts were in the red at the end of the 2012-13 school year. However, Ellis said 10 of the 49 school districts are projected to no longer be in deficit, which would drop the number of districts in deficit to 45. Ellis said the state wouldn’t know if those 10 districts came out of deficit until November when audits were completed.

Cook has a history of dubious statements. For example, in 2011, he claimed that the MEA wasn't leading the recall efforts of Republican politicians. However, the union's own magazine had put MEA members working on recall petitions on its cover the same month Cook made his claims and had a letter with his name listed urging help in recalling GOP legislators. 

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