Friday, May 24, 2013

Misleading the Public Again

The following was stated in a report by MIRS today (Lawmakers Tout Per-Pupil Funding Hikes For Schools) on the reporting out of the school aid bill by the School Aid Conference Committee in Lansing. It obviously came from Republican talking points that try to frame the state's effort to fix a problem with the state retirement system they created as an actual funding increase for public school districts:

Likewise, Sen. Howard WALKER (R-Traverse City), chairman of the Senate' school aid subcommittee, touched on the issue.  

"Foundation allowance is what everybody recognizes," Walker said. "But I think it's incumbent on the media and us as legislators to let the public know that the school districts are accruing retirement liability by virtue of their local contracts. 

"The MPSERS payments that we're making in this budget are a huge benefit to the liability which local school districts have accrued." 

This statement is inaccurate and misleading. Simply put, the teacher retirement system was wholly created by the state not the school districts, was dumped onto school districts by former Governor Engler, then was severely eroded as a direct result of continuing legislation taking more and more contributors out of the system through expansive charters, pressure to privatize non-instructional services, and the need by districts to offer retirement incentives forcing more people into the retirement system early due to declining funding support from the state.

A recent report by the Citizen's Research Council highlights the problem:

"Traditional public school districts are required to participate in MPSERS, and they really have no control over their contribution levels," said Bob Schneider, CRC's Director of State Affairs. "From their perspective, a big increase in the MPSERS contribution is effectively the same as getting a decrease in their foundation allowance or other state aid. It means something else has to go to make the budget balance. In effect, the MPSERS costs end up crowding out other spending."

With all due respect, there is little to no valid evidence supporting Sen. Walker's accusation that local district contracts are primarily causing the retirement system problem. This is simply misleading voters and a shell game to hide the fact that the ruling class in Lansing does not want to adequately or equitably fund our public school system.