Thank You for Your Dedication to Michigan’s Schools
(State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton
27th House District, 6/21/2011)
Earlier today, Governor Snyder signed into law House Bill 4325, the School Aid Fund Budget. I’d like to share some thoughts as the budget process for this year closes. Most importantly, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to you and every single person who helped to fight against this budget. I would also like to answer some of the commonly asked questions about the final budget “deal” and offer my thoughts on the question I hear nearly every day: What happens now?You Make a Difference
As Minority Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12 Education, I fought every step of the way against this budget – as did you and many, MANY others. During this process, I viewed my role as not just a legislator, but as a mother of two from Berkley Schools, representing all of the moms, dads, students and school advocates in Michigan. While this is not the outcome we wanted, I thank you for fighting for our children.
When the Governor began to unveil his agenda, the subcommittee began taking testimony. I was heartened to my local superintendents’ testimony, along with dozens of other school administrators and professional experts. They explained that after a decade of reduced funding, the easy cuts (and even the difficult ones) had already been made. The budget would penalize those districts that had remained fiscally prudent under previous financial shortfalls.
As budget details unfolded, the general public became outraged at Gov. Snyder’s plan to divert school aid dollars to pay for general fund expenses. Parents and students, educators and community advocates showed up en masse at subcommittee meetings, imploring legislators to stop the Governor’s special interest agenda. The crowds grew larger than what the subcommittee could handle and many were turned away. Yet you did not give up – you raised your voices over the din of political gamesmanship.
If the Republicans thought they could suppress public anger in their legislative process, time would soon prove them wrong. I began accepting invitations to hold Education Task Force Meetings across the state. These meetings allowed me and other legislators to take direct testimony from concerned citizens back to Lansing.
There are no adequate words that express my gratitude at the outpouring of support and allegiance that this state’s advocates for education showed over the past five months. Because of your efforts and engagement, we as Michiganders were able to unite around a common goal: to provide for the best possible education for the future workforce of our state. This united front is what will carry us through the rough road that follows – for I do believe that good things often come out of tough times.
With that spirit in mind, let me summarize what the final budget includes, and offer my thoughts on where we can go from here.
Summary of the Final Budget
Ultimately, both the School Aid Budget and the General Fund Budget passed without the vote of a single Democrat, and Republicans overrode 123 amendments proposed by me and my colleagues. The budget implements a permanent cut of $170 per pupil, plus $300 more per pupil for the 2011-2012 Fiscal Year. During last-minute “deal making,” the Governor and Republican legislators offered one-time dollars of around $100 per pupil if local school boards do what the state tells them to do (calling it “Best Practices”).
Additionally, the School Aid Fund diverts $295.9 million to pay for General Fund expenses. The overwhelming opposition to this clearly makes this a blatant undermining of the voter intent of Proposal A, the 1994 ballot initiative that provided a separate, secure and stable funding source for Michigan’s K-12 public schools. This is by far the most blatant money-grab our schools have ever seen, and it is even more outrageous that it happened at a time when there was a SURPLUS of nearly $900 million in the constitutionally protected School Aid Fund.
Finally, several categorical expenses were eliminated, including funding for declining enrollment grants, bilingual education, middle college programs, and pre-college engineering programs. Many more needed categorical expenses were severely reduced, including state aid to libraries and special education programs.
To see how these cuts impact your local school district, click here.
While today marks the end of this year’s budget process here in Lansing, please be assured that the fight for our children WILL go on. We must put the budget battle behind us, devise a plan that lets us move beyond the current debate, and think creatively on how we can build upon the Democratic unity created during this budget process and use the momentum for the betterment of our kids. It is with this perspective that I will base my legislative advocacy for K-12 funding in the future.
I hope that you and everyone who has joined in this fight can see how you have and will continue to serve a bigger purpose in your own communities AND here in Lansing. Toward that goal, I would like to suggest a few “tools” you can use in your education advocacy workbox.
First, please visit www.FightSchoolCuts.com. Not only can you sign our online petition, but you can also stay up-to-date on the fight to protect school funding.
Second, House and Senate Democrats have introduced language that would place constitutional amendment onto a statewide ballot to protect the School Aid Fund from diversion. The Legislature has the power to place this on a statewide ballot, avoiding the costly and time-consuming process of a signature petition collecting process. But it requires a 2/3 majority vote of both the House and Senate. Feel free to advocate to legislators your support to place this on a statewide ballot. You can follow the status of these resolutions (SJR-M and HJR-U) at www.legislature.mi.gov.
Third, stay involved with your local school districts. Our kids cannot speak for themselves as easily as we parents, leaders, educators, coaches, and volunteers can. They need us – they are counting on us!
Finally, let me again say how incredibly grateful I am to every person who united to support our schools – you inspire me to be the best advocate of our children through your leadership and dedication. My door is always open to you, and I am positive that we will stay in touch and live to fight another day.
State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton
27th House District