MEA President Steve Cook: ‘We’ve taken a large step backward in school funding.’

The State Board of Education (SBE) today heard MEA President Steve Cook tell them that Michigan is no longer a national leader when it comes to education systems because of its failure to adequately fund public education.

“Since Proposal A, little has changed in the past 20 years when it comes to school funding. As a matter of fact, we’ve taken a large step backward. Funding for education is now less secure than it’s ever been. School districts don’t know how much money they will get, or when they will get it, or what strings are attached to it. They need a crystal ball to make decisions,” Cook said.

President Cook was one of four speakers sharing perspectives and recommendations on school finance with the Board. In an effort to develop a comprehensive plan for redesigning school funding, the SBE is seeking input and recommendations from education groups and experts. Today, the Board also heard from Mitch Bean, former director of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency: Steve Norton and Elizabeth Lykins from Michigan Parents for Schools; and Gary Naeyaert from the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP).

In his review of the state’s school funding history, Cook cited the impact charter schools have had on public education. Over 80 percent of charter schools in Michigan are for-profit schools, leading the nation by a wide margin. More than $4 billion of taxpayer money has been drained from traditional public schools and given to these charters with the promise of becoming the “guiding light” for education reform. Yet, research shows they’re really no better than traditional public schools.

Cook told Board members, “Too many people and private corporations are making money off our public schools, with little or no improvement in student achievement to show for it. Charters haven’t lived up to their promise for something different; they’re just a parallel system taking resources away from traditional public schools.”

Cook reminded the Board that back in 1994, MEA opposed Proposal A as a way of funding schools with sales tax money. It was a political move that left schools at the mercy of more than 55 tax exemptions over the years—the most recent a $1 billion tax cut Gov. Snyder gave to corporations at the expense of public education.

“Any increases to education have been because costs have shifted to school employees. Big business gets tax cuts, but the state isn’t making up the loss by giving more money to schools. School employees have given up more in wage and benefit cuts than the state is giving to education,” Cook said.

According to a recent report by Douglas Drake (Link to the story in CC from May 9.) on Michigan’s failed tax policies, K-12 education could have received an extra $1.9 billion a year since 1994.

In his recommendations to the Board, Cook called for greater accountability for charter and cyber schools and an end to exemptions without finding a replacement for the money lost.

He told the Board, “If you want to see more of the same--higher class sizes, more attacks on school employees, the elimination of entire school districts, cuts in staffing and programs—then continue the 20-year tradition of political tinkering with school funding. We’ve gotten off the track. We can’t afford to let down those who are relying on us to do something.”