Setting the record straight on the Governor’s “huge” K-12 funding increase

Once again, the media jumped on the lead lines coming out of Governor Rick Snyder’s presentation this past Thursday of his 2016 school aid budget. Perhaps you heard it extolled by any one of several local radio or television news reporters. If you did, you likely heard something like: Governor Snyder proposed a huge increase for public schools by increasing the foundation allowance by $75 across the board. Well, it might have been a little different than that, and if you heard it multiple times like I did, you probably realized the exuberant reporter was providing greater emphasis each time on “huge.”

Which it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

Let’s start with the possibility that the Governor’s proposed $75 foundation grant increase was, well, actually $75. That takes our district, a minimum foundation district, to a level of $7,326, the new proposed minimum foundation. Sounds great, doesn’t it?  If it were true, this would provide our district with about $146,175 in new funding for the coming school year, money that could help reduce some class sizes, provide for more tutoring, purchase new textbooks to replace badly outdated ones, or modernize our science class rooms.

But it’s not a $75 per-pupil increase.

At the same time the Governor was selling this as an actual increase in K-12 funding, he decided to eliminate the one-time “reward” funding for academic performance and reduce the so-called “best practice” revenue (although no evidence exists that these were ever actually best practices) by sixty percent. Interestingly, the Governor and legislative leaders in the last two sessions touted their idea of providing one-time funding schemes like these instead of foundation increases. They equated these to corporate reward systems for motivating successful efforts whereas foundation increases, according to their unsubstantiated claims, simply lead only to waste. Of course the irony here is the fact that the Governor paid over $20,000 per year to educated each of his children at some swanky private school. Was $13,000 of that simply wasted? I don’t think he believes that.

Anyway, after the shell game, in terms of dollars to our district this is actually a deduction of $60 per pupil leaving a paltry $15 increase, or a total of only $29,235 in new funding.

But wait a minute, because the story doesn’t end here.

The state-created, and state mismanaged teacher retirement system will soak up another 2.8% of total payroll costs this year, and because staffing costs are the most significant part of our district’s budget, that will amount to an increased cost of approximately $144 per pupil. Now, our $15 in new funding is actually $129 in decreased funding.

And there are other cost factors involved as well. As an organization and largest employer in the Godfrey-Lee community, our district incurs normal increased costs due to inflation and mandated increases such as the cap on our health insurance costs dictated by the state. Along with these costs, the state is compelling the district to change to the new Common Core state standards in math and reading, and we’re also preparing for the next generation science standards as well. The legislature also forced the state education department to change the annual tests this spring. All of these lead to greater costs for training and new materials for teachers and students.

So in the end, the bells and whistles that went off this past Wednesday celebrating (or berating depending on where you lean politically) the Governor’s “huge” public education funding increase were for naught. In fact, they were ridiculous as I’ve just showed you.

And even if you ignore everything but the $75 per pupil change to the minimum foundation grant, it only means the district is finally going to be funded just $2 per pupil more than it was in the 2008-09 school year.

Cue the celebratory fireworks!

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About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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