Thursday, May 16, 2013
Yesterday, the State's leading economists agreed that there is an additional and unexpected $483 million surplus for the current fiscal year.
On the heels of the well-documented financial crises in Buena Vista, Pontiac and now Albion, we think there should be no debate: It's time to do the right thing and invest in education.
This money could go a long way to restoring the devastating cuts enacted by Lansing politicians over the past few years.
Governor Snyder talks a lot about Michigan being the "Comeback State", but with headlines detailing schools closing early and high schools ceasing to exist, it's clear that mantra will never be realized without our Governor and Legislative leadership finally funding schools.
Please TAKE ACTION to tell Lansing that it's time to do the right thing and invest in education!
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
In case you're wondering what happens when a school district can't close its million dollar deficit . . . a little reminder of what EGRNow! is about
Monday, May 13, 2013
|A brief summary by Steve Norton, Michigan Parents for Schools|
|Why will funding roads take money from schools?|
So, what's up with roads and schools?
First off, let me thank the hundreds of you who have already contacted your State Representatives about road funding and the threat to our schools. Your message is important and is getting through.
Many people have asked for a bit more information about this whole deal - and I certainly understand, because it's somewhat complicated. I'm reprinting our earlier action alert below, but let me sketch out what is happening on this issue:
The Governor wants to find $1.2 billion to repair state roads. The Legislature would like to do this for the Governor, but a majority of legislators have signed "no new taxes" pledges to help them get elected. Since the state doesn't have $1.2 billion sitting around, that means finding new revenue. So, what to do?
Our lawmakers have been very clever - or sneaky, depending on your point of view. Right now, there are two kinds of taxes on fuel: "specific" taxes, like excise taxes, and the regular sales tax. The "specific" taxes on fuel are already legally earmarked for transportation, but they don't bring in enough money to fund the Governor's program. The regular sales tax on gasoline and diesel fuel brings in some $1 billion, but that mostly goes to schools, with the rest going to local governments and the state general fund.
So, to find money for roads, lawmakers are trying to have their cake and eat it too: they want to increase the "specific" taxes on fuel that are legally earmarked for transportation so they generate the money the Governor wants. Then, they want to eliminate the sales tax on fuel, so that they can say they didn't raise taxes.
Where does this leave schools, which stand to lose some $750 million out of the deal (almost $500 per student)? Well, they're "working on it." Discussions have been going on for months about how to "replace" the revenue to schools and local government. So far, there are only some ideas floating around and no agreement on anything. The idea that seems to come up most often is to increase the sales tax from 6% to 7%, hopefully making up the difference to schools. Sounds good, right?
We have some real problems with this "arrangement":
This is nonsense, plain and simple. This whole exercise is simply to allow our state "leaders" to push responsibility for finding new revenue off onto the people. If we want to invest in our roads, we need to find a sensible way to fund that and not put our schools at risk. If we are going to change school funding, we need to address the fact that current funding levels simply are not adequate to deliver an excellent education to all our children.
Let your State Representative know today that you want them to stop playing games with school funding. They are covering themselves and putting our children at risk.
If you'd like to know more about these bills, you can read the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency analyses here and here. For a review of transportation funding and spending, read this for lots of detail.
Thanks for taking action to protect our public schools.
Michigan Parents for Schools
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
To: EGRPS Families
From: PTA Legislative Committee
Several legislative policies currently under consideration in Lansing could severely impact the school budget for East Grand Rapids Public Schools. The PTA Legislative Committee wants to make sure that EGRPS parents are aware of the proposals and what is at stake so that you can let our legislators know that this community supports its public schools and does not support policies that will decimate the programs that make EGRPS a successful district.
ISSUE: The School Aid Budget
Currently, with the three budget proposals (Governor’s, House’s, and Senate’s), local school districts can expect a net cut of between $2 and $52 per pupil. (Please click here for a detailed analysis by Michigan Parents for Schools.) In addition to the proposed funding cuts, we are concerned about a provision that is common in all three of the school aid budgets. This provision would require school districts to pay private online vendors, who are unaccountable for student academic performance, for up to two classes per year if students choose this option. This could potentially siphon more money away from EGRPS’ per pupil funding.
ISSUE: Roads vs. Schools (House Bills 4571, 4572, 4677 and 4539)
House Bills 4571, 4572, 4677, and 4539 would shift gas taxes, which benefit schools, to other fuel taxes that are exclusively committed to transportation. This would result in about an $800 million reduction in the School Aid Fund. The effect of such a shift would be at least a $500 per pupil cut on top of the funding decreases we are already trying to manage. This would be devastating to EGRPS. Replacement revenue has not been guaranteed. (Click here and here for the House Fiscal Committee’s legislative analyses of these bills.)
If you share the same concerns, call and/or email:
· Representative Pete MacGregor at (517) 373-0218, PeterMacGregor@house.mi.gov, and
· Senator Mark Jansen at (517) 373-0797, SenMJansen@senate.michigan.gov, and
· Governor Snyder at (517) 373-3400, https://somgovweb.state.mi.us/GovRelations/ShareOpinion.aspx.
Other state representatives’ information can be found here:
- To oppose any reduction to the total per pupil funding. It is dishonest for legislators to claim that they are increasing per pupil funding while simultaneously reducing other types of aid that our public schools depend on, resulting, in fact, in a net loss to school budgets.
- To remove from the final school aid budget the provision requiring school districts to allow students to take two online classes per year. This would siphon money from our schools, while giving it to private online vendors who are not held accountable for student academic performance, while at the same time holding our schools accountable for the students’ academic performance in those online classes.
- Not to resolve the road crisis on the backs of our schools. The legislature would be acting in a highly irresponsible way by removing the funding that gas taxes provide for schools without an assured funding replacement – one that does not rely on a ballot measure.
- To stop using money from the School Aid Fund for purposes other than K-12 funding. The School Aid Fund has enough money to restore the per pupil funding cuts of the last several years and actually invest in K-12 public education, but not if those funds continue to be divided among other recipients, such as universities and community colleges.
The Legislative Committee wants to thank everyone who has made calls to our legislators in the past as our voices have been heard. Thank you for your continued commitment to East Grand Rapids Public Schools!
Who We Are: As a committee of the EGRPS PTA Council, the Legislative Committee comprises parents, teachers, and Board of Education members. The Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of Business, while not members of the committee, regularly attend our meetings so that we can share information and work collaboratively to set and advance legislative priorities that benefit EGRPS. The Committee provides information to EGRPS families through the PTA Blasts and the blog; regularly communicates with state legislators and mobilizes other parents to do so; and supports similar grassroots parent advocacy groups in school districts across the state.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Friday, April 19, 2013
Education reform group forges voucher-like plan for Michigan
Thu, Apr 18
Lansing — A secret work group that includes top aides to Gov. Rick Snyder has been meeting since December to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education with a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers.
The education reform advisory team has dubbed itself a "skunk works" project working outside of the government bureaucracy and education establishment with a goal of creating a "value school" that costs $5,000 per child annually to operate, according to meeting minutes and reports obtained by The Detroit News.
The records show designers of the "value school" are in talks with Bay Mills Community College about opening a technology-centric charter school by August 2014. The school would seek to maximize the roughly $7,000 annual per-pupil funding regular schools get from taxpayers by applying "concepts familiar in the private sector — getting higher value for less money."
Other records distributed to group members indicate they want to explore using fewer teachers and more instruction through long-distance video conferencing. Each "value school" student would receive a "Michigan Education Card" to pay for their "tuition" — similar to the electronic benefits transfer used to distribute food stamps and cash assistance for the poor.
Students could use leftover money on the "EduCard" for high school Advanced Placement courses, music lessons, sport team fees, remedial education or cyber courses, according to an outline of the advisory team's agenda.
Snyder confirmed Thursday the existence of the work group, but told The News "there is not a specific outcome" for the project.
The Republican governor has urged changing how education is delivered by having tax dollars follow the student instead of locking them into a traditional classroom setting and school year.
"It wasn't a directive of the governor," Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said, "but he's always interested in seeing what people can come up with" in education innovation.
The group's minutes indicate members planned to pitch their concept to Snyder this month ahead of the Governor's Education Summit on Monday in East Lansing.
But Snyder's chief information officer, David Behen, who leads the group, said it has experienced "a bunch of false starts" and is not ready.
"It's in line with what he wants to do, though," Behen said of the project's focus.
The initiative is "very unnerving" given the history of Lansing lawyer Richard McLellan, a work group member, in pursuing vouchers, said John Austin, president of the State Board of Education, who was unaware of the "skunk works" project. A voucher system lets parents use tax dollars to choose between private and public schools — something prohibited by the state Constitution.
"This is disturbing to hear of secret group meetings," Austin said. "That reflects the ideology and political agenda of the creation of a for-profit and parallel enterprise market for schools. Part of its goal is to take down the education establishment: superintendents, school boards and teachers unions."
The panel's quiet proceedings began in mid-December after GOP lawmakers abandoned controversial legislation in the lame-duck session that would have allowed corporations, municipalities and cultural institutions to run charter schools.
McLellan helped draft the legislation and proposed sweeping changes in November to the way Michigan schools are funded. The plan was developed at Snyder's request by the Oxford Foundation, of which McLellan is a director, but has not been delivered to the governor.
Records obtained by The News show the education reform team got a $20,000 "initial grant" from the Oxford Foundation to assist "the Team in creating the technology intensive school." McLellan asked to be the group's treasurer, according to notes from a Jan. 10 meeting.
'Special kind of school'
The group consists of nearly 20 individuals, mostly from the information technology field, including Behen and the state's chief technology officer, Rod Davenport. The group includes employees from the software and tech companies Vectorform in Royal Oak, InfoReady in Ann Arbor and Billhighway in Troy. Also involved is Tim Cook of the Huizenga Group, a Grand Rapids firm that owns and operates West Michigan manufacturing companies.
One of the original members, Judy Wright of the accounting firm Plante & Moran, quit the project because of "potential client conflicts," said Dan Artman, the firm's spokesman. The accounting firm works for public school districts across the state.
The group had one educator, Paul Galbenski, an Oakland Schools business teacher and Michigan's 2011 Educator of the Year, but he left the group.
"It really kind of looked like for me that they were discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system," Galbenski said. "That's when I started questioning my involvement."
Records show the group has strived to remain secretive, even adopting the "skunk works" alias, which dates to defense contractor Lockheed Martin's secret development of fighter planes during World War II.
In January, participants were instructed in a memo to use "alternative" email accounts. Records show Behen, Davenport and two other Department of Technology, Management and Budget employees have since used private email addresses to correspond.
A Department of Education official, Bruce Umpstead, joined the group after the private email directive and has used his government email, records show.
A different approach
Behen said he and the other four state employees are mostly working after-hours on the project with Friday evening and Saturday meetings.
"Why are we using private email addresses? Because it's just easier," Behen said. "There's nothing secret or anything about this."
McLellan said the other participants are justified in using private emails. "Well, they should," he said. "It's not a government project."
"Isn't a skunk works by definition unorganized, backroom?" he asked rhetorically.
Behen said he formed the group after meeting with McLellan and Rich Baird, a close adviser and friend of Snyder who called the governor's "transformation manager" on a staff list.
One memo crafting the group's mission said it wanted to avoid working with education consultants who "are so wedded to the education establishment that pays their bills and to the existing paradigm that an outside team of creative thinkers has a much better chance of succeeding."
Behen said he "purposely didn't put a bunch of teachers on (the panel)" to generate a different approach to delivering K-12 education through rapidly changing technology.
"Just like if I was going to do something new with law firms, I wouldn't bring a bunch of lawyers in," Behen said.
Patrick Shannon, director of charter schools at Bay Mills Community College, said the Upper Peninsula tribal college that charters 42 public school academies across the state is "very interested" in helping launch a "value school." Shannon has attended one of the group's meetings as has an official with the Educational Achievement Authority in Detroit, records show.
"We're very much into the online and digital type of oversight as well. Let's try something different," Shannon said.