FINCH: Opening day

By Curtis Finch

MOISD Superintendent

When each governor announces his or her budget recommendations for the following year, it’s officially “opening day” for the political season. Pundits start pontificating, legislative aides start spinning and politicians trying to get re-elected add messages to fit their personal objectives, hopefully without upsetting their party! This cycle has continued for decades. Much like the “real” opening day, there is a lot of anticipation and anxiety about what will happen next; you have to hunt to find answers on what is actually going to “make it to the buck pole.” Some citizens love the noise of political opening day, while others dread all of the radio and TV commercials which will inevitably follow right behind the tours, speeches, and pictures for the re-election bids. I personally enjoy it; half of the fun is trying to figure out the “why” behind the choices each party makes – the politics. If you’ve been around the game for a while, it gets easier to see the principles and successfully predict their impact.

Since the republicans are currently in charge, you could easily argue their results are mixed; we have to give them credit for tackling some very difficult issues over the past four years that directly and indirectly impact public education. It is true that Michigan was a mess, and tough decisions had to be made. It all started when Gov. Engler borrowed hundreds of millions from the pension fund to fill holes in the state budget and then Gov. Granholm borrowed from the K-12 School Aid Fund to assist the higher education world. Not to be outdone, Gov. Snyder did the same again, three more times! Legislators are now saying this may be the year they stop “borrowing from K-12” to fix budget problems. Some reforms have been good, some not so good, but overall many tough issues were challenged. As usual, there is always more to the story…

The spin of the current governor’s budget proposal of a 3 percent increase to K-12 is “sort-of” true, but not by the industry-understood definition of a percent increase. In reality it is a 1 percent increase to the FTE (dollar value of a student) – that will directly benefit the classroom. The other 2 percent is going to continue to pay off the state’s pension obligation made decades ago – not the current classroom. Is 1 percent better than nothing? Of course! After a decade of cuts to the FTE in education, a positive economic outlook has the potential to bring an increase to educational funding to the classroom. According to the House Fiscal Agency, there are actually enough School Aid dollars to give your local K-12 district a real 3 percent increase on each student (FTE) – real dollars for the classroom. Only with dollars such as these will your local class sizes be reduced, budgets allow for the purchase of new books and technology, and interventions be brought back for struggling students – 1 percent will just pay the extra heat bill this winter!

Although the governor has successfully changed the definition of a “percent increase” by adding state obligations to the formula, it is obvious what he is doing – politics. While proposing a real 6 percent increase for higher ed and a 3 percent increase for community colleges, the 1 percent to K-12 is meant to send a message. If you understand that, it’s easy to get excited about opening day! This is only the first shot.

The legislature will have their opportunity to correct this misstep and funnel more dollars to your local classroom, but only if they hear from you.

Dr. Finch can be reached at cfinch@moisd.org and followed on Twitter @CFinchMOISD