In his most recent budget offering, Gov. Rick Snyder has requested an increase in education spending for Michigan schools.
As a result of this debate you can find quotes from the Mark Schauer, the Democrat running for governor, claiming that under Rick Snyder Michigan is spending $1 billion less on education as well as the corresponding assertion from the governor's office that under his watch spending has increased by $660 per pupil.
Both sides continue to use slanted math to posture for position in the governor's race but let's imagine for a minute that the citizens in Michigan are more interested in the money going towards education than which candidate can manipulate information better.
In that case it should be noted that since 2007, spending on education in Michigan has failed to keep pace with inflation to the tune of around $1.5 billion. In 2003, total per pupil revenue in Michigan was 7.8% higher than the national average, but had dropped to 2.9 percent below the national average by 2010.
Of course it is also true that less money is going is making its way to the classroom than before. According to an article by Julie Mack of MLive, "In today's dollars, the per-pupil foundation allowance was worth $8,170 in 2003-04, the report says. Under the governor's proposed budget, its $5,932 in 2013-14."
Conservative will be quick to point out that this fall in classroom spending is largely due to the increased spending on the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSER). However it should be noted that a large portion of the additional funds being allocated to the MPSER program come directly from employees. It certainly doesn't suggest education is a priority for the governor if the only way he can show an increase in education spending is by taking money out of the pockets of Michigan educators and putting it back on the balance sheet as "spending."
Perhaps more concerning than the half-truths and number manipulation coming from Lansing is the use of MPSER as a tool to undermine public schools. One of the biggest reasons the retirement fund for teachers is underfunded is due to the ratio of people currently contributing to the number of people drawing from the fund. Over the past decade the ratio dropped from around 2.5 employees per retiree to 1.23. Obviously less money going in and more money going out will have a negative impact on longevity of the retirement funds.
Some of this owed to the loss of students due to the recession, but the Michigan Legislature compounded this problem by offering early retirement to cut cost. While this helped in the short term, it increased the number of retirees drawing from MPSERS, making the fund less solvent moving forward. To make matters worse Rick Snyder and Michigan Republicans continue to move students out of the public school system and into charter schools. Unlike public schools, enrollment in MPSERS is optional for these new entities.
Rick Snyder will happily continue to talk about education spending and tout his record because he realizes the unwinnable situation he has set up for Michigan's public schools. He will claim public schools are inefficient and expensive and then offer charter schools as the solution.
Nevermind that two decades worth of charter schools haven't proven to have better educational outcomes than public schools.
Nevermind that many charter schools actually spend more than their traditional public school counterparts.
Nevermind that charter schools have more money going to administrators and less to educators than public schools.
And nevermind that charter schools end up being a way for politicians to reward big donors.
Regardless of all of these potential problem areas, Rick Snyder and Michigan Republicans know that every school they deem failing will simply be converted to a charter school, which pulls more students out of traditional public schools. This means fewer teachers contributing to the public retirement fund and with fewer teachers contributing it requires the state to kick in more. The perception then becomes that greedy teachers are taking money out of the classroom and that public schools are expensive and inefficient.
This is the self-fulfilling prophecy Republicans hope will be the undoing of public schools. The Republican solution to inefficient and expensive public schools makes public schools more inefficient and expensive. It's a win-win for Republicans. They make public schools look bad while simultaneously putting more kids on the charter school gravy train.
The question of money in education is important but when it comes to the Michigan governor's race the better question should be, what do we want our education system to look like in the future? Do we want schools that are subject to local checks and balances or a couple massive corporations that make their money based on quantity, not quality? Because regardless of how much either candidate pledges to spend, their goals are profoundly different.