Perhaps the hottest, most debated topic in the Michigan race for governor is school funding. The Mark Schauer campaign claims Gov. Rick Snyder has cut $1 billion from education since he chose to give a $1.8 billion tax cut to business while also deciding to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for a rainy day fund instead of replacing stimulus funding resulting in a $235 million drop in funding from the final Granholm budget to Rick Snyder's first budget.
The Snyder campaign claims they increased funding by $660 per pupil over his four years in office and has put out two separate ads asserting this position. Unfortunately for Michigan voters, the two teachers involved in these commercials both retired before Snyder took office, which suggests their understanding of the current situation is questionable at best. It should also be noted that one of these teachers happens to be Snyder's neighbor while the other is the vice chair of the Oakland County Republican Party. These former educators are hardly impartial.
Of course the purported increase doesn't actually mean more money for the classroom. A large portion of the additional funding is going directly to cover teacher pensions (MPSERS). While this may be a necessity, it is also a bit of a self inflicted wound. Since being elected, the governor has supported a number of policies that actually exacerbated teacher pension problems. The initial funding cut saw many school systems reduce staff, which means fewer members contributing. The governor also oversaw an early retirement buyout program that not only removed contributors but also increased those drawing from the system. Additionally, by creating more charter schools, which are not required to participate in the MPSERS program, the governor again shrank the retirement pool.
Essentially, the governor made worse a problem he was forced to solve and is pretending that his solution somehow shows an increased commitment to education. But even that claim is sketchy, since a portion of the funds that the governor is taking credit for actually come from educators, since those still working have been forced to increase their per check contributions.
It's also important to remember that the average school district has seen less funds ending up in the classroom. The average per-pupil foundation allowance dropped from $7,146 in the 2010/2011 school year to $7,126 in the 2014/2015 school year. When adjusted for inflation, schools have lost over $648 per pupil worth of buying power under Snyder.
The National Center for Education Statistics shows Michigan has seen a real drop of 9% since 2008. Only 15 states have cut more out of the education budget over that time.
But regardless of whether you believe Snyder increased or decreased spending, the measure that most Michigan parents really care about when it comes to education is outcomes. The fact that all of Snyder's re-election ads focus on the money tells you all you need to know about how well his policies are working for Michigan's kids.
If the change the governor had championed resulted in better test scores the cuts to education would be something to promote not refute. Unfortunately for students, Rick Snyder and the Republican controlled Legislature have little to show for all of the changes they have enacted.
Edweek's annual Quality Counts report shows Michigan falling compared to other states under the governor's watch on measures like Chance of Success, School Finance, and Standards, Assessments, and Accountability while only marginally improving from 43 in the nation to 42 in the nation on K-12 Achievement.
ACT test scores show little to no change under the governor's watch, as Michigan students have the 10th worst aggregate scores compared to the other states and the District of Columbia. Michigan children have also seen a slight loss or no gain in the majority of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores.
Additionally, the Educational Achievement Authority, which was one of Snyder's avant garde education reform ideas, is on seriously shaky ground. The EAA claims they are seeing extraordinary results, yet data show that only 4 of its 15 schools saw an improvement in their state rankings while five actually saw their rankings fall. Reports also show a decline in performance for 36.1% of EAA students in math and 35.6% of EAA students in reading.
But perhaps worst of all is the fact that the EAA experienced a 25% drop in enrollment. Given Snyder's insistence on corporatizing Michigan's children, seeing a quarter of the students who experienced an EAA school chose to go elsewhere the following year represents the pinnacle of failure. Free market principles dictate that if the EAA were providing a better experience, more, not less students would chose to attend. The marketplace has spoken, and in this case the mass exodus speaks volumes about one of the governor's signature reform ideas.
Michigan children deserve to be more than just a tag line in empty campaign rhetoric because the value of a good education is something you can't put a price on.