Just the facts on funding, salaries, pensions

Talk of education reform in Michigan eventually turns to per pupil funding and the salaries and benefits of school employees.  Budget talks this year showed legislators intent on reforming how the state funds its schools and how it pays its teacher. But the data shows that Michigan isn’t leading the pack when it comes to the funding of schools and pensions or teacher salaries.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, Michigan ranks 23rd in the nation for per-pupil school spending. The national average in 2009-10 was $10,615 per student; Michigan spent $10,644.

Gov. Snyder is interested in a new funding system for K-12 education since Proposal A--shifting school funding from local property taxes to a state sales tax--doesn't seem to be working. Legislators are looking at basing funding on performance.

Spending $3,923 per student on salaries puts Michigan's 30th in the nation. The national average is $4,376. NEA’s December ranking of the states shows Michigan salaries at 12th in the nation--a far cry from the single-digit rankings public education critics always quote. New York spends the most on teacher salaries and benefits; Texas spends the least.

MEA members have continued to take salary cuts in exchange for good benefits and the data confirms that.  The state spent $1,859 per pupil on benefits, making it 16th in the nation--just slightly above the national average of $1,514.

When it comes to the funding of public employee pensions, Michigan is one of 34 states rated of "serious concern" according to a Pew Center study. The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan think tank providing information on American and world issues and trends. The Center recommends an 80 percent funding level. Michigan is at 72 percent as a result of its underfunding for the past seven years. For its $45 billion shortfall, Michigan has only funded 3 percent of that liability.

Michigan is following the lead of some of the other 34 states in the same situation and shifting costs to employees. The House has already approved a plan and the Senate will probably take up the issue on July 18 when they return for a one-day session.

Republican legislators call their changes an attempt to save the retirement system. Rather than a rescue mission, it's another attack on current school employees and future hires while dismantling public education at the same time.