school funding

In the race for governor, few things are disputed more than education funding under Gov. Rick Snyder. Challenger Mark Schauer claims Snyder cut funding by a billion dollars. Snyder has called that a lie and says he’s added a billion dollars. They’re both sort of right and they’re both wrong.

“Both sides have truth. Neither is lying, per se,” said Mitch Bean.

He is a former director of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency. That’s a nonpartisan agency within the Michigan House of Representatives. Now he’s a consultant and he’s been looking at the budgets to try to find out exactly what has happened to money for schools.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A state review team is hosting a public meeting today in Benton Harbor. The six-member team is trying to determine if Benton Harbor Area Schools is in financial stress.

The Benton Harbor school district has been running a deficit since 2006. It's cut costs, but at the same time, it also has low-performing schools that need to improve test scores to meet state and federal standards. Plus, it’s lost students every year.

It’s already closed buildings, privatized support services and gotten concessions in wages and benefits from teachers.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

At the beginning of the school year, Jennifer Guerra spent a lot of time at two different schools for her documentary, The Education Gap. One of the schools had plenty of resources, the other did not.

Jen went back to the school where poverty is a real struggle for nearly all of the students. There have been some changes since she last visited. For example, school officials now say its OK for us to identify the school on air (we refer to the school as School X in the documentary.) 

It's Myers Elementary in Taylor. But whether it's referred to as School X or Myers, the school is still caught in the nexus of having few tools to deal with some of society's most complicated problems. 

But there have been several smaller, more personal victories. The principal has convinced some kids that college is an option they can and should be serious about. And some of the kids hungry for more challenging academics have gotten more attention. 

Read and listen to what difference a year makes at State of Opportunity

 

MichigansChildren / YouTube

Late last year, the state’s top education official had dire predictions for the finances of Michigan schools. He predicted the number of districts in deficit could reach 100 “before long.”

Now, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan says the situation is stabilizing, and he credits increased funding from the state.

“Debates aside about how much of an increase there is – there’s been improved funding the last couple years,” said Flanagan. “I think there could be more. But I think that’s helped.”

Flanagan gave his latest regular update to the state Legislature Thursday on school districts with budget deficits. He says the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) expects the number of deficit districts to have dropped from 52 to 45 over the course of this school year.

Flanagan says the state’s sluggish economy in recent years has made it difficult to help schools get their books in order.

“Now we’re coming out of it,” he said, “and we need to continue to invest in our kids. And I appreciate the start that this legislature and governor have made. I do think we can and will do more in the future.”

Flanagan is urging state lawmakers to create an “early warning system” for schools facing financial emergencies. Legislation in the state Senate would also make it easier for the state to assign an emergency manager if a district violates a deficit elimination plan.

Democrats say it’s not fair to say Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature have increased state education funding. Republicans include money that went into the teacher pension system.

Thomas Favre-Bulle / Flickr

The Michigan State Board of Education hopes public school funding will be a top priority for voters when they head to the polls in November.

The board on Tuesday kicked off a series of discussions meant to publicly critique the way the state pays for public education. The talks will continue at its monthly meetings until November.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Our State of Opportunity team has been diving into the issue school funding over the past couple months.

The vast majority of Michigan K-12 schools get between $7,000 - $8,000 per pupil every year. But there are some schools that get more…a lot more. We're talking about roughly a $5,000 difference between the richest schools in the state and the poorest schools.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor Area Schools is already campaigning to get students enrolled in the fall. That’s because the district hopes to dig out of a major budget deficit by attracting more students.

Benton Harbor schools narrowly avoided a state appointed emergency manager a couple of years ago.

Superintendent Leonard Seawood says since then, they’ve balanced the budget for two years in a row.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Lansing school board last night approved the district's budget for next year.

The $142 million spending plan is $25 million smaller than the current year budget.    The district is tightening its belt, including laying off between 90 and 100 employees.

Yvonne Caamal Canul is Lansing’s school superintendent. She describes the budget plan as setting a baseline for the district, one the district can grow from in the future.

Right now, it’s about preparing for this fall. 

It took an intense campaign in Michigan in 2008 to get voters to approve proposal 2, allowing embryonic stem-cell research.

On today's show we talk to a neurologist leading the nation’s first clinical trial of stem cell injections in patients with the deadly degenerative disease ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

And, there is no shortage of articles, quotes, and news stories telling us what politicians, business titans and other leaders think of Michigan and its future.

But what about what tomorrow’s leaders think?

annarbor.com

The litany of school districts in serious money trouble is long and growing longer: Buena Vista, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Pontiac, Albion.

Now we hear that Hazel Park schools are broke, according to the Superintendent, who blames an "unexpected drop" in student enrollment.

Close to fifty public school districts across our state are facing deep deficits. Buena Vista actually closed down for two weeks while scrambling to find enough money to keep things running.

Other districts have implemented layoffs and program cuts.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And some say Michigan has too many school districts, and that consolidating some of these districts is a prudent choice.

Last year, the state encouraged Ypsilanti and nearby Willow Run schools to consolidate.

After tough decisions regarding layoffs, staff restructuring and closing buildings, the consolidation will happen July 1.

Scott Menzel is the superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and, come July 1, he will be the superintendent of the new unified district: Ypsilanti Community Schools.

He joined us today in the studio.

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Albion School Board voted last night to close the district’s high school.

Beginning this fall, the mid-Michigan district will only serve students in grades K through eight.

Some students cried.  Others just shook their heads, after the school board voted 5 to 1, with one abstention, to close Albion High School.

School board members said repeatedly they didn’t want to close the school, but a projected million dollar budget deficit could not be ignored.

A charter school in Muskegon County will have to repay the state close to $30,000 that, technically, the school shouldn’t have gotten in the first place.

The more students a school has the more money it receives from the state.

Barbara Stellard, who directed Waypoint Academy from 2002 to 2010, was charged in October with multiple criminal charges for reporting more students than actually attended the charter school.

Michigan Attorney General’s office spokeswoman Joy Yearout says another employee at Waypoint told tipped the state off to the scam.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

About 200 administrators at Grand Rapids Public Schools are getting notice that they could potentially be laid off this summer. The school board voted Monday night to send out the notices, as part of a “transformation plan” it adopted in December.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Walk up to the new school inside the Blandford Nature Center and a flock of brown hens will quietly greet you. The hens are part of a business lesson about entrepreneurs at the Blandford School.

On Monday students and staff gathered to open the new school building paid for through mostly private funds.

Jennifer Brandstatter wipes tears from her cheek during the celebration. She moved her oldest of two daughters from a Catholic school to attend  6th grade at Blandford and she “loves it”.

“I just, I cry when I think about it. It’ just she’s having the best time of her life. The teachers are amazing. I mean it’s just such a unique experience,” Brandstatter explained.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

On Thursday night hundreds of parents and students got their first chance to respond to a "transformation plan" for the Grand Rapids Public School district. The plan unveiled Monday includes closing ten schools.

There was a lot of push back, even tears at times in the auditorium at Creston High School; the only high school slated to be shut down.

“Honestly, it feels like the board is giving up on us,” Creston High School freshman Toni Cortazar said.

Mike Flanagan
Mike Flanagan / Twitter.com

The state’s education chief says money for early childhood education and community colleges needs to be part of fixing Michigan’s school funding system. Mike Flanagan is the Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction and leads the state Department of Education.

He spoke today at the first public hearing held by Governor Rick Snyder’s workgroup that’s devising a school funding proposal. The governor wants a system that rewards proficiency.
    
Flanagan says that won’t happen if the state doesn’t find a way to offer universal early childhood learning.

"We spend a billion dollars per grade and we spend nothing on early childhood, and we wonder why the results are exactly the same, and we blame the teachers, we blame the state superintendent, we blame the parent for not reading to them enough, and the bottom line is, we should blame the system first and foremost," he said.

Flanagan says every student should also be guaranteed a year or two of community college or its equivalent.  
    
The school funding workgroup will spend the summer working on its recommendations.

Richard D. McLellan
Richard D. McLellan / Wikimedia Commons

An overhaul of how Michigan pays for public schools could be on the way. Gov. Rick Snyder wants that to be a big part of his budget proposal in early 2013.  The governor has named Lansing attorney Richard McLellan to lead the process.
    
McLellan says the state’s funding system is overdue for a shakeup.

“This is a 1979 law. It’s quite out of date," he said. "It’s a school district-centric model that doesn’t necessarily provide the flexibility for parents and for students that people are now demanding."

Romney in Michigan today

Mitt Romney is making his first visit to Michigan today since he narrowly won the Republican Presidential primary here last February. He's going to deliver a policy address at Lansing Community College. More from the Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta:

Romney’s expected to focus on the economy in his speech, and suggest President Obama’s policies have slowed the pace of the nation’s, and Michigan’s, economic recovery.

The appearance certainly suggests the Romney campaign considers Michigan an attainable prize. Michigan has not gone for the Republican presidential nominee since 1988.

Yesterday, Romney gave a speech in Ohio in which he took credit for the revival of the auto industry.

Rethinking Detroit's neighborhoods

The Detroit Works project is the name of Mayor Bing's revitalization plan. The Detroit Free Press reports the team is getting closer to putting forward a set of recommendations for the city. The recommendations could include urban farms, gardens, and reforestation in parts of a city with a little more than 20 square miles of vacant land:

The team is expected to produce a final report by late summer, offering options for residents and civic leaders to consider rather than strict recommendations about what should happen where.

"There is room for a broad spectrum of interventions to be played out," said Toni Griffin, a City College of New York professor of urban planning who co-chairs the Detroit Works technical team developing the list of options.

Karla Henderson, Bing's group executive for planning and facilities, said the mayor and his aides are looking forward to receiving the report from the planning team.

Michigan voters head to the polls today

Voters will head to the polls today to decide a variety of issues for their communities. Many communities will decide whether or not to tax themselves more to pay for school improvements, or, as Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported, to help pay for a "sludge dryer":

Not everything on the ballots involves schools. The issue in Delhi Township, near Lansing, is sludge. Or more accurately, what to do with it. The township is asking voters to approve a surcharge on their water bills to pay for a sludge dryer.   Supporters say the dryer would turn human waste into bio-fuel. Opponents say it’s just a waste of money.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Five state lawmakers took tough questions from parents in East Grand Rapids Wednesday night. The legislative committee of the schools' PTA hosted the lawmakers; four republicans and one democrat. Hot issues included a proposed bill on cyber schools and the governor’s proposed k-12 budget for next school year.

Cyber charter schools

Last year Michigan lifted the cap on how many charter schools public universities can run. Now, there’s a bill proposed that would allow more cyber charter schools to operate.

Many parents asked the lawmakers why cyber schools get the same amount of state money per child as brick and morter ones. State Representative Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) said cyber schools shouldn’t get as much, saying the savings should be passed on to the taxpayers. Cyber charters can be run by national for-profit companies.

Tina Murua has two kids enrolled in East Grand Rapids schools. “I fear that they’ve couched the whole thing in terms of parental choice because…who can argue with that? It’s a brilliant strategy but it was a false choice,” Murua said. She worries companies are pushing states to allow more cyber schools just to make money.  

The state senate already approved the cyber charter school bill. It passed the State House Education Committee in late February.

A statewide group launched a campaign Thursday demanding state lawmakers invest more money in public education.

Victoria Kovari is the lead organizer at the Michigan Organizing Collaborative. It’s a network of faith-based, community and labor leaders. Kovari says they want lawmakers to significantly reverse the trend of education cuts in Michigan over the past decade.

“This is a statewide problem. It affects rich and poor districts, city and suburban and rural districts all across the state. And it affects the lives of real people; young people and parents and teachers,” Kovari said.

The collaborative is asking people to sign an online petition to lawmakers. She hopes the request will make a difference as lawmakers craft the state budget over the next few months.

user kakisky / morgueFile

Full day kindergarten may be in store for more Michigan children, due to changes in the school aid budget.

Schools currently get the same amount of per pupil funding whether they offer half day kindergarten or full day kindergarten. But starting this fall, schools that offer half day kindergarten will see their per pupil funding for those students cut in half.

The state legislature approved the school budget funding change last year.

Here are several different school districts' takes on the changes:

One size does not fit all

Livingston County's Brighton Public Schools currently get the full $7,000 per pupil for half day kindergarten students. They’ll get $3,500 for half day kindergarten students beginning with the 2012 school year.

Greg Gary is superintendent for Brighton area schools. He says the drop in funding is going to hurt his budget, but he refuses to cut half day kindergarten from the schedule:

"Not every kid is going to excel in a full day program. I have two children, and I would have put one in full day kindergarten, and one in half day kindergarten, because kids are different."

Galien Township Schools

This week a small school district in southwest Michigan laid off all but four employees because of major budget problems. 122 students at Galien Township Schools will have to enroll at new schools next semester. Included in the layoffs were 10 teachers, 10 support staff, 4 bus drivers, and 2 kitchen workers. The only ones who remain are the superintendent, the business manager, a secretary and a custodian.

The Galien district consists mostly of farmland 3 miles away from the Michigan-Indiana border in Berrien County. The number of students there has gone down for several years. The school board closed the high school in 2004. Those students transferred to other districts. In January, kindergarteners through eighth graders will do the same.

“I’m sad for this community,” Superintendet Tim Allard said, “I’m sad for these employees who have been here so much longer than I have." Allard just came on as the district’s superintendent in September. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A group of parents and school leaders in Grand Rapids is kicking off a campaign to pass a property tax increase to pay for improvements at more than 30 school buildings.

The proposed increase would cost an owner of a home worth $100,000, $54.20 a year. It would pay to replace worn-out roofs, heating systems, and windows. It would also pay to get rid of asbestos and replace old fire alarms.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Kids still enjoy the playground at Stocking Elementary School. The school in Grand Rapids was closed last year to save money. State Representative Roy Schmidt used the shuttered school as a backdrop while telling people Michigan’s fund for K-through-12 schools had a surplus this year.

“We had the money, it just got switched somewhere else.”

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Republican-led Michigan Senate has approved a bill that would cut funding for the state's public schools.

The measure approved 21-16 mostly along party lines Wednesday would cut per student funding by an additional $300 per pupil in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. A portion of those cuts would be offset by money to help schools pay employee retirement system costs. Some districts also could get about $100 per student if they meet certain so-called "best financial practices."

The cuts will come on top of a $170 per student cut that's already in place and would be carried over into next fiscal year.

The bill will be sent to the House, where it will be folded into a larger budget bill and likely approved this month.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

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 lawmakers are still expected to cut the funding they provide K-12 public schools. But that cut could be lower than initially expected because the State of Michigan is projected to collect $429 million more in tax revenue than first expected.

Administrators at Grand Rapids Public Schools are pushing lawmakers to restore so-called categorical cuts before anything else. These are separate funds for schools to better handle specific issues– like declining enrollment, and bilingual and special education.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s third largest school district estimates it would face a $25 million deficit if lawmakers pass Governor Rick Snyder’s budget. In an annual address to the community Saturday, Superintendent Bernard Taylor outlined how that could impact next school year

Financial challenges

The district has trimmed around to $70 million from its budget in the last decade. Taylor says to cut $25 million in one year would be difficult.

“But we can’t be afraid. We can’t show any trepidation about what our situation is because in the end, whether we have a billion dollars or we have one dollar children have to be educated.”

He proposed a pay freeze for all administrative staff, and that they pay 20% of their health care premiums. But even with those and a number of other cuts, Taylor warned the district still may have to lay off more than 180 employees.

Academic challenges

Next year, the state will raise cut off scores for what’s considered "proficient" on the standardized MEAP test. Taylor says that will have a negative impact their academic achievement. But he stressed raising standards for a high school diploma isn’t a bad thing.

“It is not a precursor of anything if you are not college ready or workforce ready, meaning you have to have pronounced academics skills in the areas of literacy, mathematics, problem solving and being able to work cooperatively with others.”

Taylor wants to do a better job determining if students are really prepared to study beyond high school.

He’s asking the state allow the district to keep those students who aren’t ready in high school longer. Taylor wants to do that in cooperation with Grand Rapids Community College.

Carmen Seaby / Flickr

Grand Rapids Public Schools is hosting a meeting Wednesday night and Friday morning to discuss Governor Rick Snyder’s state budget proposal. The district would face a $25 million budget shortfall if lawmakers approve Snyder’s budget.

Snyder is asking lawmakers to approve cutting $470 per student for all public school districts. That’s roughly a 4% cut from what the state sent them last year.

Tulane Public Relations / Creative Commons

In Michigan there are two count days each year; one in September and one in February. Count days are important to every school district’s bottom line because the total number of students on those two days helps determine how much state money the district gets year-round.

The count day in September carries more weight in determining funding than today does. September's count day makes up 75% of a district's total enrollment and the count day in February 25%. But school leaders are still notifying parents of the extra importance today holds.

John Helmholdt is with Grand Rapids Public Schools.

“Parents need to do everything they can to ensure children are in school every day, it just so happens that there’s two days a year where our state funding is based on the total count of students on that day.”

Helmholdt notes students with an excused or unexcused absence can still be counted.

Helmholdt says the district treats count day sort of like a campaign; blanketing the community with fliers and making robo-calls beforehand and hosting fun events in school today.