Thursday, March 20, 2014

Open Request to Michigan's Legislature

The House and Senate appropriations process is currently considering Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal for K-12 funding and I wanted to share how it will impact Godfrey-Lee school children.

According to the House Fiscal Agency, our district will receive a foundation allowance increase of $111 under the Governor’s plan.  Other categoricals such as “best practice,” “performance,” “equity (rolled into the foundation but not increased),” and even 31A at-risk funding remain flat from the current year.  Thus, the Governor proposes a classroom-based increase in our foundation from $7,076 to $7,187, a 1.56% increase that is below the expected inflation rate for 2014.  Just as a reminder, the Governor’s proposal is still $287 per student below the 2009-11 levels prior to him taking office.

Our current K-12 student enrollment is 1,916 (a 16.4% growth in enrollments over the past ten years). That means at first glance, the Governor’s plan provides our classrooms with $212,676 in new funding assuming flat enrollment, just 1.4% of our projected state and local foundation and categorical funding, again falling short of the projected rate of inflation.

However, Governor Snyder’s proposed K-12 budget increases our MPSERs retirement costs by $56 per pupil or a total of $108,563 removed from the “new” classroom funding. Nearly half of the increase in the foundation allowance will be eaten up by these costs for which the school district has no control over. In summary:

            $212,676         increase in foundation allowance ($111/pupil)
             -108,563         increase in retirement costs ($56/pupil)
            $104,113         net new funding (0.67% increase)

The increased retirement costs result from a reduction of $20,788 in the employer share (lowering of the district cap from 20.96% to 19.76%), only to be offset by an increase of $129,351 due to loss of 147a funds proposed by Governor Snyder.  It is interesting to note that had the Governor left the cap and 147a funding alone, the district’s cost would have increased by "only" $87,212, thus his plan is costing our students an additional $21,351 in classroom funding.

Despite help through previous legislation and our Board's collaborative work with employee associations to hold down our normal rising costs, the increased health care cap this year is still expected to cost the district an additional 2.9% along with a 10% increase in projected dental and vision plan costs, for a net increase of $62 per student or a total of $118,648. Please remember that while dental and vision plans are local issues, the state controls the rising cap on health care costs borne by the district.

            $104,113         net new funding (before increased health care costs)
             -118,648         increased costs for health, dental and vision plans
            $ (14,535)        net new money

As the summary above concludes, the district is now looking at no additional dollars for the classroom under Governor Snyder’s anemic proposal. Like any business or organization, we also face increases in employee costs as our staff members deal with the rising cost of living and raising families. This past summer, we worked collaboratively with our employee associations to bargain lower costs after two years of deep freezes in wages and benefits. We feel our plan is a model for both fiscal responsibility and demonstrating appreciation for the solid work our staff is doing in a district fraught with many learning challenges. Overall wage increases for employees this coming year is projected at $100,737 or $53 per pupil. No decision has been made on salary and wage increases for non-union and administrative personnel, most of which have only had one normal increase in the past five years.

            $   (14,535)     net new money (under Governor’s proposal)
               (100,737)     salary and wage increases
             $(115,272)     combined new money and personnel cost increases

So as you can see, despite the political rhetoric we are facing additional cuts in classroom spending that will have further negative impacts on our students. The Governor’s self-proclaimed “3% increase” in K-12 funding actually rolls out to a minimum net decrease of $60 per student before inflation is even factored into supplies, materials, technology, and fixed costs. In addition, our district is required to sustain many of the costly innovations that were previously funded by the federal SIG support for Lee High School to ensure it does not return to the bottom of the state’s ranking system. Isn't that a bit strange? It's the state's ranking system yet the federal government had to provide the needed resources.

As most districts, we have had to utilize a significant portion of our fund balance which has fallen from a high of 23% in 2008 to a current projection of just over 10% for this school year.  Had we not experienced an unexpected influx of new students this past fall, it would have shrunk to 8%.

What we are asking the House and Senate to do is to support the alternative funding plan that proposes to shift funding from a variety of categoricals into higher per pupil grants ranging from $250 to $278.  For Godfrey-Lee, a $278 increase versus the Governor’s proposed $111 would at least provide enough flexible funding to not only offset the increased retirement costs under his plan, but would actually ensure approximately $204,700 in new classroom funding ($106 per pupil) that could be used for sorely needed classroom curriculum materials, or to hire highly qualified English language teachers in grades K-8 where students struggling with limited English proficiency number range from 35 to 50% of each grade level. We face other needs in the area of literacy and math proficiency as well as transitioning to the new Common Core and science curriculums as Michigan moves forward.

Again, we are thankful for the reforms that are helping us to control costs but we need a better K-12 school aid bill than what the Governor has offered. Godfrey-Lee students have the highest percentage of school-age poverty in Kent County, the second highest percentage of limited English proficiency in Michigan, and face a variety of difficult learning challenges every day despite the super efforts of our professional staff and support from our parents and the community. We are now asking you to support the alternative funding plan that does little to add to overall state costs and give us the funding and flexibility to meet our students’ needs.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Spending on Classroom Instruction vs. Administration: Who spends more? Traditional or Charter?

Ever wonder which schools in Michigan spend the highest ratios of administration or total non-instructional costs when compared to funding for the classroom? Hint: "academy." 

Check out the data from 2011-12 in this table

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A plan to fully fund Michigan's classrooms

A plan to fully fund Michigan's classrooms | The Detroit News

Late last month, a diverse group of public education leaders and advocates proposed an education budget that makes our children the top priority by redirecting existing resources to where they are needed most — the classroom. Superintendents, principals, school boards, teachers, parents and others across Michigan are all uniting around our “Classrooms and Kids” budget proposal and are calling on the Legislature to support this common-sense plan.

Very simply, our plan would remove several burdensome special pots of money and instead reallocate those same dollars directly into per-pupil grants for every student across the state. Many times, these special pots of money simply end up serving as a mechanism that unintentionally picks winners and losers among kids, rather than helping them all.
The result is that the “Classrooms and Kids” plan would provide increases of between $250-$291 per pupil, this builds upon the governor’s proposed increase of $83-$111.

“Classrooms and Kids” is a common-sense plan that finds important savings and resources without raising taxes and provides local school officials more flexibility to best address priorities of their local schools.

All schools — and kids — are winners under the “Classrooms and Kids” plan, which is why legislators from both parties have publicly pledged their support.

From The Detroit News:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Presidents' Day or Washington's Birthday?

Here we go again.

Even the State of Michigan's official website illustrates the power of the myth of "Presidents Day." The "Official Holiday" page lists Monday, February 17 at "President's Day" when state law (435.101 Sec. 1) clearly indicates that "the third Monday in February" is Washington's Birthday.

I say shame on our State government for helping to mislead the public, perpetuate an ignorant myth, and diminish the importance of honoring our first president.

I've posted on this and have written to the Editor of our local newspaper many times in past decades. I'll let someone else explain the myth of Presidents' Day this time.

Presidents' Day or Washington's Birthday? |
by Ann Marie Imbornoni

Well, according to the federal government, the holiday observed on the third Monday in February is officially Washington's Birthday. But many Americans believe that this holiday is now called "Presidents' Day," in honor of both Presidents Washington and Lincoln, whose birthdays are Feb. 22 and Feb. 12, respectively. It turns out that whether you honor one or the other or both of these presidents may depend on where you live.

States Decide on Holidays

The states are not obliged to adopt federal holidays, which only affect federal offices and agencies. While most states have adopted Washington's Birthday, a dozen of them officially celebrate Presidents' Day. A number of the states that celebrate Washington's Birthday also recognize Lincoln's Birthday as a separate legal holiday.

When Was the First Public Celebration of Washington's Birthday?

Washington's Birthday has a history as old as our country. It was celebrated publicly for the first time in the late 18th century, while George Washington was still president.
Washington's Birthday became official in 1885, when President Chester Arthur signed a bill making it a federal holiday. Meanwhile, there was President Lincoln's birthday on Feb. 12, which never became a federal holiday but was celebrated as a legal holiday in many states outside the old Confederacy.

Origins of the Monday Holiday

In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act, which moved the official observance of Washington's birthday from Feb. 22 to the third Monday in February. Some reformers had wanted to change the name of the holiday as well, to Presidents' Day, in honor of both Lincoln and Washington, but that proposal was rejected by Congress, and the holiday remained officially Washington's Birthday.
Nevertheless, there was a popular misconception that the day had been officially renamed, a misconception only reinforced by the fact that the third Monday in February can only occur between Feb. 15 and Feb. 21. This means that the holiday is always after Lincoln's birthday and before Washington's birthday, without ever coinciding with either. Furthermore, some states which had previously celebrated Lincoln's Birthday dropped the observance after the federal holiday reforms, supporting the notion that the two presidential birthdays had been combined.
While the name change has never been authorized by Congress, it has gained a strong hold on the public consciousness, and is generally used on calendars, in advertising, and even by many government agencies. There have been attempts to introduce legislation requiring federal agencies to call the day Washington's Birthday, but these have never gotten very far. No matter what's in the law books, the popular usage is now well established.

You Can't Please All of the People...

Many people feel that Lincoln, the president credited with preserving the nation during the Civil War, has been short-changed. To them, having Presidents' Day is a sensible way to recognize both Washington and Lincoln. Others feel just as strongly that having an inclusive Presidents' Day diminishes Washington's importance in American history.

Read more: Presidents' Day or Washington's Birthday? |

You should also read:

Presidents' Day 2013: Actually, there’s no such thing

We don't care what that newspaper ad says, there's no official 'Presidents' Day' holiday. By law, it's 'George Washington’s Birthday' honoring the Father of Our Country, and only him.

By Staff writer / February 18, 2013 also chimes in against the myth of "Presidents' Day:"

Friday, January 24, 2014

Tax Cuts Won’t Grow the Economy, Could Further Drain School Funding

Tax Cuts Won’t Grow the Economy | Michigan League for Public Policy

Income tax cuts lock in deep and harmful cuts in education and other public services. Over the last decade—even before the Great Recession—Michigan budget and tax policies resulted in deep cuts in the public services and structures that are the foundation of economic opportunity and growth. To gamble on a personal income tax cut—despite the evidence that tax cuts do little to boost the economy—puts basic public services at risk, and undermines Michigan’s fledgling economic recovery.

Reinvesting in public education is at the top of Michigan’s to-do list. Overwhelmingly, high-wage states are states with well-educated workforces, in part because a pool of well-educated workers attracts high-wage employers.(9)

There are many ways to improve workforce skills in Michigan, including increasing access to postsecondary education, reducing high-school drop-out rates, moving people without high school degrees through GED and associate degree programs, increasing the quality of K-12 education, and offering preschool and family support programs for parents of young children.(10)

Unfortunately, the reality in Michigan is that:

Fifty-five school districts across the state are grappling with deficits. In the decade between 2003 and 2013, the minimum per-pupil foundation allowance for K-12 public schools increased by only 4%, in the face of a 21% increase in inflation.(11)  State funding for K-12 education fell by over 20% between Fiscal Years 2004 and 2013 when inflation is taken account.

Michigan lags behind other states in education spending. A national report found that the state is spending $572 per student less than it did in 2008, a 9% cut (adjusted for inflation), putting it behind 33 other states that cut less, or invested more, in education.(12)

(9)  Berger, N. and Fisher, P., A Well-Educated Workforce is Key to State Prosperity, Economic Analysis and Research Network (August 22, 2013). 

(10) Ibid. 

(11) K-12 Schools Minimum Foundation Allowance, Senate Fiscal Agency (updated September 18, 2012). 

(12) Leachman, M., and Mai, C., Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (September 12, 2013).