Sunday, November 11, 2018

Speech in Wayland, Michigan for Veterans Day 2018

Veterans Day
Wayland Pine Street Elementary
November 9, 2018

Thank you for inviting me here, today. I’m certainly honored to return to Wayland and speak on such an important occasion. We’re here to honor our heroes and to simply say “thank you" for your sacrifices.

Today’s ceremony, like many that will be held around the country this weekend, honors our veterans who came from all walks of life, but shared several fundamental qualities: They possessed courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, and integrity -- the qualities necessary to serve a cause more important than one’s self.

Many of our veterans didn’t ask to leave home to fight on distant battlefields. Many didn’t actually volunteer. They didn’t join necessarily to go off to war because they loved to fight. They were called to be part of something bigger than themselves. They were ordinary folks who responded in extraordinary ways during difficult times. They rose to our nation’s call because they wanted to serve a country that has given them --- has given us --- so much.

Since the first shots at Lexington and Concord were fired in 1775, American men and women have been answering the call to duty. Millions fought and many paid the price on battlefields, here and around the globe, to defend our way of life. Today, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines continue to stand up against those who seek to destroy freedom in many places around the world.

As we all know, Veterans Day began as a day of celebration and remembrance at the conclusion of the first World War. That war ended 100 years ago this Sunday, and the law that created Armistice Day, as it was called, directed that it be, quote, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated.” Following World War 2 and the Korean War, the name was changed to Veterans Day, to honor all veterans from every war and conflict, and also those who served during peacetime.

So, this morning it would be fitting to take a quick moment and reflect back 100 years ago, to the bloody battlefields of Europe, and the two million Americans who helped bring that horrific war to an end. The Army regiment in which I proudly served during my military career is known as the 126th Infantry. In 1918, it included men from across west and southeast Michigan, and was part of the famed 32nd “Red Arrow Division.” The division had fought four very difficult exhausting battles over a six-month period, in some of the worst conditions possible, that only veterans who have experienced them could appreciate. The regiment had suffered the loss of many men but was still preparing to continue the fight even right up to the war’s very last day.

A soldier in the 126th had kept a diary and his commanding officer later published a book. I would like to briefly share what Captain Emil B. Gansser had to say on that very last day of war:

“The morning of November 11, 1918, broke with the usual accompaniments of battle. The boom of artillery guns and the crash of exploding shells, with their clouds of smoke and dirt, were still with us. The immediate cessation of fighting was not evident during the early morning hours, and no one expected such a contingency to happen so soon.

“About 9 o’clock in the morning messages were received that an armistice, or cessation of fighting, had been signed, and that hostilities would cease at 11 o’clock. This news was too good to be true, and after hearing so many rumors, this news was regarded as another hoax and little belief given to it.

“The enemy kept sending over an occasional artillery shell all along the front line until 11 o’clock, and our artillery responded in kind.

“At last the designated hour arrived, and as if to mock us for our unbelief, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, the great cannons ceased their roar, and the continual sounds of the machine gun became silent. The scream of the flying shells and the whistle of the bullet was no more. The curtain was drawn on History’s greatest and bloodiest of conflicts between man.

“The suddenness of the end and the quiet created a sort of dumbness and one did not know whether to laugh or to cry. Contrary to ordinary belief, the tired soldier did not cheer. He still doubted the truth and feared it might be another trick, and waited until that night came and passed before he was convinced.

“When morning came and all was quiet, we felt assured that the peace was real and all were happy.”

America is fortunate to have had millions of brave men and women stand for freedom since our country’s founding. We owe it to them all to ensure that their service and sacrifice is always honored. And, we also want to continue to remember their families who have sacrificed much as well.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Link to photos from the ceremony:

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Persistent Funding Gaps in Michigan K-12 Schools

Almost a year to the date, I posted on the continuing inequity of K-12 school funding in Michigan. I have since retired but you can go back and read (or re-read) that post at:

One More Time on Equity in School Funding

It is a fairly comprehensive post yet updating it with school funding data from this current school year would not make any difference. The inequity persists.

"Overall, the funding inequities we documented in the 2015 report appear slightly smaller, but persist. Compared to 2015, the national funding gap between high and low poverty districts decreased slightly — by 3 percentage points — from 10 percent to 7 percent. The national funding gap between districts with the highest and lowest percentages of students of color went from 15 percent to 13 percent, representing a 2 percentage point drop." ~ Education Trust, Funding Gaps 2018

Education Trust has released a new analysis of inequity in school funding just this past week. Here's what the report says about U.S. and Michigan schools when it comes to K-12 funding for affluent versus those schools predominantly serving low-income students. You can go back to my post linked above and see specific examples of this persistent inequity. Since our state Republican-led legislature votes each year on school funding, the blame for this inequity lies with the politicians.

Education Trust, Funding Gaps 2018

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Governor's K-12 Funding Proposal Doesn't Do Enough

I'm no longer in a school superintendent's seat but that doesn't eliminate my concern as a citizen and taxpayer for the continuing underfunding of our public schools in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder has proposed an increase for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year but it still falls way short of making up the huge $470 per pupil cut implement in Snyder's first year. In fact, as the following slide shows, my former school district lost close to a total of $2 million since that cut. This is a district that serves a high-needs population but receives less per student in the foundation allowance -- the major share of K-12 funding -- than several other districts in the county, as well as several very affluent districts in Oakland County on the east side of the state.

A study mandated by the Republican legislature (which tried to stop the study before it happened and then simply shelved the results when they were presented) found that K-12 funding was becoming less equal as noted by the conservative-leaning Detroit News. The study used a "successful schools" model that concluded the base foundation allowance should be raised immediately to $8,667. In addition, districts like Godfrey-Lee should be receiving additional funding for at-risk and English-learners well beyond that provided by state or federal grants. 

The study failed to analyze the growing need for additional special education funding, a category that has NEVER been fully funded by federal or state governments. Lieutenant Governor Calley put together a subcommittee to review special education funding and in 2017 the group reported:
"...special education funding experienced a 15.6 percent reduction (between) 2011-12 (and) 2015-16. It can be expected that a student in special education will have greater need, and therefore require additional services at a greater cost than a student not in special education. However, state and federal funding do not cover most of those additional costs." (emphasis added)
Because the law requires full services for special education-eligible students, those costs continue to be covered by a school's general fund budget that primarily comes from the foundation allowance. That means less funding for classroom instruction as a whole.

Because the legislature and governor have refused thus far to implement the recommendations of the 2016 study, a second study was initiated and the results were recently publicized. It concludes that:
"The base per-pupil cost to educate a regular education K-12 student in Michigan is $9,590, which does not include transportation, food service or capital costs, and only includes pension costs at 4.6% of wages." (emphasis added)
The study also calls for increases for students with special needs, transportation costs, and for school districts serving less than 7,500 students. When adjusting for inflation and comparing to the foundation allowance in 1995, the study's recommended $9,590 has a value of approximately $6,061 per pupil. Not quite what is needed but it takes a strong step towards closing the gap in lost revenue.

Given the legislature's propensity for personal tax cuts and massive business tax cuts that have little to do with the growing needs of our state or making our Michigan education system a "Top 10 in 10," it's highly unlikely that gap will ever shrink.