Reality Check: Who Is to Blame For School Deficits?

MEA blames Legislature, facts say otherwise

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A Department of Education report that said 48 school districts posted deficits in 2010-2011 is being used to blame Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature for cuts that are part of the state's 2011-2012 budget.

Michael Van Beek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said Gov. Snyder’s cuts weren't in place at the time the districts were in the red, and that these districts were spending more than they were taking in before Gov. Snyder took office.

The article states: “The move comes after school districts absorbed cuts in state aid, with the minimum per-student grant dropping from $7,316 to $6,846 — which union leaders said is the main reason.”

Van Beek said it will not be possible to measure the impact of budget cuts on school district deficits until after the 2011-2012 fiscal year ends, which is June 30, 2012.

“Blaming Gov. Snyder and the Legislature for these budget deficits aligns nicely with the narrative the MEA would like to push on the public, but unfortunately for them, the data don’t justify their claims,” Van Beek wrote in an email. “Many of these school districts were overspending long before Gov. Snyder took office, with two-thirds of them operating in the red for at least three years.”

Thirty-eight of the districts had been in the red for more than one year and 16 of the districts had been outspending revenue for five or more years.

The Grand Rapids Press quoted a union official who blamed Snyder’s cuts for the deficits.

 “What did the Legislature expect would happen when it cut $1 billion in school aid?” said Doug Pratt, the Michigan Education Association's public affairs director.

“I'm surprised there aren't more districts on the list, since so many were struggling because of declining enrollment and other things even before Gov. Snyder took money away to give businesses a $1.8 billion tax cut. And the reason there aren't more is because employees have given so much back through concessions.”

Grand Rapids Press Reporter Dave Murray, Grand Rapids Press Editor Paul Keep and the MEA’s Doug Pratt didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

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See also:

'A "Crisis" That Never Ends' - Will schools ever have enough money?

MEA Executive Salaries 'Not Based on Merit'

Coverage of School District Claiming Cuts

Five Easy Questions to Ask School Officials