School aid rewrite will change how the pie is sliced

One of Gov. Snyder’s goals in his April 2011 education message was to change how schools are funded and it seems a group he has appointed will help him accomplish that.

Richard McLellan, a former advisor to Gov. John Engler, is leading the group which intends to rewrite the 1979 School Aid Act with the focus on school aid following the student, rather than going to school districts. To accomplish that, the group is determined to make the School Code and the Act work together and incorporate changes that take into consideration “reforms” like unlimited charter schools and cyber schooling. McLellan is a strong supporter of school choice and vouchers. He helped draft the Kids First Yes! ballot proposal in 2000 that would have allowed school vouchers for students who are in supposedly “failing schools.” The proposal was soundly defeated by voters.

In a public hearing last week, McLellan announced the rewrite goal is to “provide more flexibility to families in sending their kids to the school district they wish their child to attend.” The group is getting its inspiration from Snyder’s education message of providing education “any time, any place, any way, any pace.” McLellan doesn’t intend to add any more money to the school aid fund which currently provides $14 billion for education, but instead focus funding based on performance—another item on Snyder’s wish list.

When McLellan took comments from the audience, the theme shifted away from money to how Michigan students are educated. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan, a resource for the group, was joined by others who encouraged the group to consider the design of the current education system and decide what a school should look like.

Also part of the group is Bill Rustem, Gov. Snyder’s Director of Strategy and Peter Ruddell, an attorney in charge of writing the new funding proposal.

Backing for the rewrite is coming from the Oxford Foundation-Michigan, “a charitable non-profit with an interest in education issues.” McLellan promised transparency in the process and encouraged stakeholders to submit their ideas and suggestions on the Oxford Foundation’s Facebook page—Oxford Foundation-Michigan.

MEA intends to be an active participant in any discussion regarding school funding and will be submitting suggestions and ideas. Of concern so far is the fact that this effort isn’t going far enough. How do we talk about school funding and not talk about increasing the amount of money going to schools who are burdened with last year’s $1 billion cut? With home-schooled and non-public students having access to funds, the project resembles a voucher system—even though group members repeatedly denied it. MEA will be watching the situation to make sure the needs of all children are being met—not just a few.

The group expects to have a draft of the new funding system ready for legislators by Oct. 1. Snyder will see the final draft to use as he prepares his 2013 budget.