Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Rule of Law

The State of Michigan expects all public school districts to fully abide by the massive pile of state laws and regulations governing K-12 education. If not, the state resorts to bully tactics and threaten (1) withholding state aid payments, (2) withholding grant funds, and/or (3) taking over a specific school or the entire district.  On the other hand, state legislators and bureaucratic officials have unfettered ability to openly and knowingly violate our foundational document - the Michigan Constitution of 1963.

The state constitution was amended in 1978 by the Headlee amendment passed overwhelmingly by Michigan's voters to get runaway taxes under control. A provision of the amendment specifies:

The state is hereby prohibited from reducing the state financed proportion of the necessary costs of any existing activity or service required of units of Local Government by state law.  A new activity or service or an increase in the level of any activity or service beyond that required by existing law shall not be required by the legislature or any state agency of units of Local Government, unless a state appropriation is made and disbursed to pay the unit of Local Government for any necessary increased costs.  The provision of this section shall not apply to costs incurred pursuant to Article VI, Section 18.  ~ Const. 1963, art 9, section 29

In other words, if the state requires local units of government, including public school districts, to provide any new or increased level of service or activity, the state must appropriate funds specifically to pay for that.  However, for the most part, this has been ignored by various state departments and agencies since 1978, and the legislature has been an accomplice all along.

In 2000, school districts filed suit specifically against the growing practice of the state to require districts to report mountains of data annually that has little or nothing to do with teaching and learning in the classroom.  The Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) has been the primary culprit and focus of that lawsuit. The Adair suit claims that districts are being forced to spend tens of hundreds of dollars each simply to feed CEPI's appetite for data, money that's taken permanently from the classroom to support the requisite expansion of administrative staffing and technology in order to comply.  This past year, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the districts but despite this confirmation of the rule of law, the state - and specifically CEPI - continues to ignore this constitutional prohibition.

Lately, the Michigan House of Representatives in lame-duck session has crafted a new shell game to allegedly fund the cost of CEPI requirements in districts.  House Bill 5887, which will be considered by the Senate after the Thanksgiving holiday, will set aside $25.6 million already committed to public schools in the form of regular per-pupil funding and then turn around and hand it to us as if it represents "additional funding."  What a joke!  This action will result in a loss of funding once again to support classroom learning.

It's high time that Michigan's citizens demand that Lansing be held accountable under the state's 1963 Constitution and specifically the Headlee Amendment. Crushing legislative and regulatory requirements that serve no purpose but to expand state government and reduce local control has got to stop once and for all.  Hopefully, the Senate will have sense enough to say NO to more illegal unfunded mandates and force CEPI and other agencies to scale back their overreach. In the meantime, if our districts and other local governments have to continue to go back to the courts to put an end to this nonsense, so be it.