Many of us are still trying to get over the shock of Gov. Snyder’s recent budget proposal and the devastating impact it will have on school districts. We knew there would be sacrifices from all sectors of the state, but we didn’t expect such a disinvestment in public education. Snyder is proposing in his 2011-12 budget a $300 per pupil cut on top of the current $170 cut. Adding to the damage is an expected increase in retirement costs that could equate to an additional $230 per pupil. Add the numbers together and districts could be facing a $700 per pupil reduction.
Michigan districts have been reducing their budgets for the past 10 years. They’ve been forced to think creatively to provide quality education despite years of shrinking resources and one-time budget fixes. At the same time, the expectations for school reform and increased student achievement are at an all-time high while the negative attacks on public education are unprecedented. The result has been a focus on short-term fixes that offer temporary relief to schools with no assurance of long-term funding stability. Districts have been forced to plan from year-to-year as opposed to long-term planning which we know is more conducive to spawn true reform.
Over and over we hear from policy makers that education is a priority and that it’s the foundation for economic recovery in Michigan. Some policy makers believe that schools haven’t cut enough and need to find further efficiencies despite the fact that schools are tapping their reserves. In some cases, schools have already exhausted them pressing for concessions at the negotiating table and sharing and consolidating services wherever they can. Perhaps there are places where districts can find further efficiencies, but after reducing their budgets for the last 10 years, schools are running out of options beyond widespread layoffs, larger class sizes, program cuts and other options that are detrimental to student learning.
What we need from our policy makers is a stable funding system for schools so districts don’t have to go through this annual guessing game of whether their budgets will be adequately funded. In the past, districts needed to closely examine their budgets for unwise expenditures and determine areas where they could operate more efficiently. This was a good exercise to assist districts in identifying their most important priorities and focusing on their most effective programs. However, now that districts have adapted to fewer resources, they need the space to be able to plan and rethink education and try reform measures without the fear of being able to fund them for the long haul.
I don’t know a board member or superintendent who’s not committed to preparing their students for a successful future. But to continually be the brunt of drastic cutbacks and to never know from year-to-year how to plan for innovative programs is simply not going to promote the kind of education reform we all agree is necessary. It’s time for our legislature to seriously look at how to ensure stable funding for our schools—and invest in what really makes an impact to economic prosperity. It should be their number one priority…isn’t that what they’ve been telling us?