Comparison contradicts union’s talking points
A teacher speaking on behalf of the Michigan Education Association wandered off the union's message at a Senate committee hearing when he said Tennessee's education system performs better than Michigan's in at least one key area.
Year after year, the MEA lobbies for more money and equates spending with education quality. Larger class sizes typically rank highly on the union’s complaint list and the MEA says that is a problem that comes from insufficient education spending.
But Martin Garay, a Kentwood elementary teacher and MEA member, contradicted his own union's talking point.
Garay told the Senate Compliance and Accountability Committee on Dec. 4 that large class sizes are a problem in Michigan. He used Tennessee as an example where class sizes are required to be smaller.
"Coming from the state of Tennessee where we had state laws mandating class size, the difference ... every one of those students is a life that belongs to somebody, and when you have a classroom of 23 as opposed to 29, that's six whole lives, six whole families that can be impacted. These are the things that made me want to [come testify]."
According to figures from the 2010 U.S. Census, Tennessee ranked 47th nationally in per pupil spending at $8,065. Michigan's per pupil spending was the 23rd highest in the nation at $10,664.
Garay's testimony comparing low-spending Tennessee more favorably than higher-spending Michigan seemed out of sync with that of Chandra Matafferi, a Novi teacher who also testified before the same committee on the same day in support of the MEA. In her testimony, Matafferi stuck to the traditional MEA line about Michigan not spending enough on K-12 education.
"We can do better and come together and protect adequate funding for our classrooms," Matafferi said. "We share stories of challenges in public education are harming our schools . . . our students ability to learn. As you know many of us go above and beyond our jobs and we’re all doing this with less and less financial support a year."
In reality, Michigan's K-12 spending has not been "less and less" each year. It has increased since 2010 and now is over $13,000 per student.
Both Garay and Matafferi were brought in by the MEA to testify at the hearing, which was part of the Senate committee's investigation of allegations that the MEA is not fully complying with the state's right-to-work law.
Tennessee has been a right-to-work state since 1947.
MEA spokesperson Nancy Knight did not respond to a request for comment.