By Tony Briscoe
Entirely East Lansing staff writer
Gov. Rick Snyder’s groundbreaking announcement on his plan to balance the Michigan’s staggering budget deficit was delivered Thursday. Among the long list of items on the chopping block, and arguably one of the most devastating topics in his speech, were cuts to education.
“Think about the last time you had a governor sit or stand in front of you and look you in the eye and tell you ‘with this package we can have a fiscally sound, balanced budget for two years out for 2013,'” said Snyder. “I can do that today. That’s long overdue. By doing 2012 right, we know we’re in good shape for 2013.”
Budget Director John Nixon said that the Snyder administration proposed two separate bills—one strictly pertaining to the education budget and nother regarding other financial alteration such as the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax, slashes cuts for state employees and local government, termination of tax credits and more.
“If you look at the available tax revenue that we bring in as a state, over 60 percent of that revenue goes into school-aid fund, and it’s very difficult when such drops in revenue as we’ve had in this state…to hold that piece harmless,” said Nixon.
In the education bill, public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, funding was reduced by four percent, or about $470 per student. The Legislature already reduced school finances by $170 per student, so Snyder’s educational budget bill will include an additional $300 reduction.
“If all of the school districts were to go to an 80-20 split on their health-care contributions, that would put them well over half of meeting this target introduction,” said Nixon. “If they were to reduce their non-instructional line item by just ten percent through implementing best practices and looking for efficiencies, that would generate another $300 million in savings. We feel that this is a very defensible plan that doesn’t have to impact the classroom because we know that’s a critical area that we need to maintain in school-aid funding.”
Michigan’s 15 universities’ support from the state would be cut 15 percent; however, in efforts to keep college affordable, Nixon said the bill offers a shared portion $83 million for all schools that keep five-year tuition increases under seven percent.
All in all, Nixon said that $12.2 billion will be allocated for public schools, while $1.4 billion will be set aside for universities.
In addition, intermediate school operations will be trimmed down five percent. Community college funds, on the other hand, are expected to be maintained according to Nixon, and will continue to receive $296 million.
These cuts to the eight schools in the East Lansing district and Michigan State University could have dire consequences for the residents of the city. State Rep. Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing) said students from kindergarten to college will eventually be hurt if the bill is passed.
“I think what the governor has done here by cutting $470 (per student) out of the K-12 budget is put, not just East Lansing, but virtually every school at risk,” said Meadows. “I think Okemos was already looking at closing a couple of schools and I believe this might pretty much double the deficit.”
East Lansing City Manager Ted Staton said the bill is a dual threat to Michiganders, not only affecting education, but employment as well.
“Government and education employment is a big component of the Lansing area economy,” said Staton. “These cuts will certainly reduce employment in those sectors.”
Staton, a father of two, said he is less concerned with the bill in terms of economics and more so because of its affect on students.
“I have two children in public schools,” said Staton. “Of the 100 top high schools in the nation only one is in Michigan. Of the next 500, only a handful are in Michigan (East Lansing is one of them). I don’t see how we improve our schools by deeply cutting funding. Classrooms are already overcrowded and extracurricular activities cost families money. There are almost no gifted and talented programs in area schools due to budget constraints. If education is our way forward from this manufacturing economy we enjoyed for nearly 100 years, deep budget cuts won’t get us there.”
According to Meadows, the Michigan House of Representatives plans to vote on the educational bill before May 31 .