Education
11:48 pm
Fri May 20, 2011

Kent County Republicans, Democrats field questions about paying for public education

About 500 people in West Michigan spent a couple hours Friday night in Grand Rapids, talking with their state representatives about how to fund public education. 

The forum was rescheduled from last week after a fire marshal shut it down in Lowell (20 miles west of Grand Rapids) because so many people showed up it broke the fire code of the building.

Last night the crowd was  passionate, at times interrupting and booing Republican lawmakers.

State Representative Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto) highlighted that the budget will cut a little more than 1%, down from a little more than 4%.

“Given our current budget crisis I really am proud about that.”

Posthumus Lyons also pointed out that some specific funds are expected to be restored that help urban districts.

State Representative Dave Agema (R-Grandville) told the crowd, “I think that’s the misconception with most of you here, you think you’re the target.”

“This is one of the smallest cuts in the budget,” Agema said. He says the solution is to make Michigan a business-friendly-state.

“I think that’s what the goal is so more money will come into the coffers. And I see some people shaking their heads (no), it’s actually economics 101.”

The crowd audibly grumbled at this comment. One woman stood up and shouted “You’re not speaking to us in a professional manner!”

Representative Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) condemned the outburst. “As much as I think Dave is totally wrong, I’m not going to hoot and holler at him.”

Dillon pointed out what he thinks is a fundamental dispute – what to spend the more than $900 million surplus in the school aid fund (separate from the state’s regular, general fund) on.

“That money is being taken to finance other parts of the budget.”

Dillon isn’t confident Governor Snyder’s tax overhaul will jump-start the economy and create new jobs.

Mike Shibler is Superintendent of Rockford Public Schools. He was one of several school administrators, teachers, and parents at the forum.

 “I hope the governor’s tax proposal and reform works. I hope it works. Because that’s the only hope we’ve got right now. But I cannot see school districts continue to function at a high level if they continue to be cut.”

Grand Rapids resident Shawn Johnson and many others stayed long after the forum ended. The small-business owner says all services in Michigan, including schools, have to be cut. He says everyone here is complaining about a well that’s run dry.

“If I don’t have people here to buy my services than I can’t work. So what we have to do, we have to work together build a new well and then we better all drink out of that well to survive."

Johnson says that new well is a broader tax base. He’s optimistic Governor Snyder’s tax overhaul will help attract more people and businesses to pay those taxes.