Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Response to Governor Snyder's Special Message on Education Reform

Governor Rick Snyder today released his message on education reform nearly two months after he proposed a budget that forces draconian cuts that will negatively impact the classroom and Michigan's K-12 students. While there are many good ideas in his message, we are concerned about the cost of implementing a number of them and where that funding will come from.

A Special Message from Rick Snyder: Education Reform

The Governor's budget proposal is leading to significant layoffs and program cutbacks while at the same time he is calling for increased pay for teacher performance, additional dual enrollments to colleges, expanded use of technology and access to educational programs, more charter schools, and significantly more professional development for teachers and school administrators. While the educational policy implications make sense, his economic actions do not. The fact remains that schools are being cut by at least $470 per pupil this year under his budget proposal and many at-risk school districts, such as Godfrey-Lee, are planning for even deeper cuts exacerbated by reductions in federal funding and rising costs.

 

These reform proposals will have a greater chance of success for Michigan's kids if the Governor drops his insistence on transferring school aid fund dollars to higher education while cutting aid to K-12 students. If the Governor honored the intent of Michigan's voters when they approved Proposal A in 1994, schools would have as much as $200 per pupil in additional revenue that could be used to accomplish his ambitious goals. Instead, the Governor is virtually crippling our ability to conduct critical research and development, or "R & D" as its referred to in Governor Snyder's corporate world, leaving all of us wondering how we are going to operate even just the basic programs this coming school year, let alone his new proposals. Cutting schools back to 2005-06 funding levels makes it virtually impossible for districts to implement the 2011-12 technology and teaching methods he recommends.

 

The performance-based funding proposal in the Governor's plan is appealing on the surface but stands to penalize districts, particularly in urban areas, with high percentages of at-risk students. Reducing the amount of funding for students who may have limited English proficiency skills or come from low income urban households, based solely on their test scores and promotion from one grade to another, fails to recognize the obstacles to learning they face. Reducing funding to promote increased academic achievement is illogical especially since that funding decision will be made after a student has spent a year in the classroom. Schools cannot plan for staffing and support not knowing what it's per-pupil funding will be for that year. Previous studies and experience in our schools conclude that at-risk students require additional resources, services, mentoring and assistance to succeed. A performance-based system easily turns into a reverse-Robin Hood funding plan, taking school aid funds from the poor to reward the rich. Michigan's per-pupil funding system already rewards wealthy school districts on the east side of the state at the expense of schools in communities that are struggling economically. The Governor's plan will only add to that disparity.

 

Addressing school readiness issue is an admirable goal and long overdue in Michigan. One has to wonder how an understaffed Department of Education can take on the new responsibility inherent in the Governor's proposal and where the money will come form to fund this new agency. However, if his objectives can be accomplished without impairing or further reducing state revenues for public K-12 school districts, he will certainly have the support of the educational community.

 

In the coming years, school districts will already be facing the additional costs of implementing the new national Common Core Curriculum and a considerably different assessment program. The Governor and his staff should proceed cautiously with the bulk of these new reform proposals. Last year, our state legislature, with the urging of Governor Granholm, pushed through a pile of so-called reform bills in an ill-advised and failed attempt to secure Race to the Top federal funds without adequately considering the potential costs at the district level. We are only now seeing an effort by top Lansing officials to distance themselves from their roles in drafting and passing those bills, and even advocating undoing some of them such as the State Reform Office statute. Let's not add to the confusion and the implementation costs by forcing through more ill-planned reforms, especially while K-12 funding is being severely cut. Instead, the Governor's first job should be to restore state revenue for public education at least at the 2010-11 level so we can keep teachers in the classrooms and continue our extensive efforts to improve student learning for every child.