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Posted on Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8 a.m.

Gov. Snyder has put Michigan on a solid financial foundation, now we must reinvest in education

By Tom Watkins

Editor's note: A typo in the headline has been fixed.

Michigan's political leaders of both stripes spent the previous decade attempting to rebuild the state on a foundation in the clouds.

Both this year's budget and the next have done more to structurally align the state's finances than anything accomplished for decades. Gov. Rick Snyder's administration has put us on a solid foundation upon which to rebuild.

The $48.2 billion budget plan comes with strings attached and demands for results.


Tom Watkins

Historically, the state used one-time-only funding sources, like federal stimulus dollars, as a lubricant to protect the status quo as other budget gimmicks were used to put off tough decisions and avoid getting the state's fiscal house in order.

Synder has laid out a second budget plan that is not just about "spending money", but seeking ways to invest it in our collective futures. His second budget presented to the Legislature witnesses a revised budgeting model based on hard numbers, fiscal prudence, and reality.

Previous state budgets were goodie bags meant to appease Lansing's lobby-class by incrementally layering more money, like sedimentary rock, on programs --regardless of results. Gov. Snyder has made clear he is about demanding results and incentivizing success.

Now, when there are cries for more "spending," the governor is re-directing the conversation to results and "value for money" by changing the budget calculus to the five "R's:" Restructure, Reform, Reinvent and Reinvest in Results.

This new model stops the historic "spend and pretend" game of the past that delayed having to recalibrate the state's finances to a new, more austere, reality. It appears the days of kicking the can down the road are over.

Education Results Matter

Michigan should invest in our public schools as a strategy to help make us competitive on the world stage.


Michigan should invest in our public schools as a strategy to help make us competitive on the world stage.

File Photo |

Yet the historical funding formula of simply determining what revenue was available and disbursing under the School Aid Fund is the equivalent to pushing all your chips into the middle of the poker table and declaring "all in" while holding a lousy hand. The educational payoff for the students has been anemic at best.

Schools now must accept "best practices," meet goals, and work collaboratively to save money.

A new report by the Michigan-based Education Trust-Midwest (, demonstrates how poorly Michigan is measuring up when compared with national leading states. The report points out that Michigan's African-American fourth-graders were ranked last in the nation.

This poor performance cuts across minority and middle and upper-income school districts, impacting far too many students and Michigan's future.

Simply stated, Michigan ranks 21st in the nation in K-12 funding and we are not getting a fair return on the investment being made.

The governor has emphasized "ROI" - a return on investment - in his first two educational budgets including:

• Providing incentive money to encourage school districts to become efficient and share services to reduce costs.

• Rewarding school districts for producing a years' worth of academic growth for a years' worth of funding.

• Investing in quality pre-school learning.

• Supporting quality choice and the utilization of technology and e-learning to advance quality education.

• Addressing unsustainable health care costs.

These policies have changed the debate from one of simply MORE spending to one that demands, expects, and rewards results.

Critics point out that the Snyder administration has not provided the same rigor and accountability for business -- expecting cost benefits and dashboard metrics for those billion-dollar business tax breaks, with jobs yet to be produced -- as he has for education.

The governor can certainly do better. It is right to expect "value for our money" across the board.

Let's stay out of the clouds -- we need to firmly plant ALL Michigan's spending and tax policies on solid ground and produce results.

Tom Watkins is a former Michigan state superintendent of schools and state mental health deputy and director. He is a U.S./China business and educational consultant. He can be reached at:


Fran Nowak

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 4:10 p.m.

Regular students get $5500 in Michigan. Could you imagine how much a private online company could suck out of the system for a special needs student? Public schools pay for tutors, special busing, one on one care, outings, testing, ect.= $50,000 to $100,000 per year.

John Q

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

I don't know what world Mr. Watkins lives in but anyone who has been paying attention knows that Governor Synder's "solid financial foundation" was financed in part by a $1 billion cut in funding for K-12 education. The result has been dozens of public school districts pushed to the edge of financial crisis. However those cuts benefited the state budget, they have been a disaster for local budgets. The sad part is that the cuts to local schools weren't done to balance the state's budget, they were done to finance a massive tax cut for businesses. Snyder's made clear that tax cuts for business take priority over everything else. Watkins and his fellow apologists for Snyder can try to distract us from the truth but the facts tell the real story.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:54 p.m.

Veracity, Not sure where you are getting your information from about charter schools, but you are mistaken on many points. Charter schools are public schools. There are no vouchers to help pay for a charter school because there is NO tuition. It is a PUBLIC school and they can't charge tuition. Therefore there is no bias. Charter schools are obligated to take EVERY student who applies. However, usually there are more applications than space available. When that happens Charter Schools must hold a drawing in which ALL potential parents are invited to attend. On the application for a charter school there is no questions about grades, performance, behavior problems, etc. so how can a potential student be excluded? Please stop spreading your misinformation around.

Ron Granger

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:50 p.m.

Whenever Snyder speaks, I can't help but touch my wallet to make sure he hasn't removed it from my pocket.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:47 p.m.

Like homelessness, eduaction is only an issue when a Republican is in office. We had eight years of Jennifer Grandholm and Kwame Kilpatrick. I did not realize things were perfect back then.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

Well it won't get better by cutting resources either if that's your creative solution!


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:21 a.m.

Obviously the amount of money spent on education at the time did not provide very good results, did it?


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:18 a.m.

Was education cut during Granholms administration? No.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:19 p.m.

Mr Watkins, do you think Michigan would be on solid ground if we followed Mitt Romney's advice to let GM go bankrupt?


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:07 a.m.

And how many of you Romney haters drive foreign cars?


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.

GM doesn't exist. More importantly, when do we get our billions back that we were promised for bailing them out?


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

Those who believe that charter schools are the answer to our education problems should understand the following: Charter schools do not uniformly outperform public schools on tests. Vouchers for charter schools do not cover the entire cost of attending the schools and, therefore, are biased against low income families unable to pay the difference between voucher and actual tuition. Charter schools are usually constructed in better neighborhoods often miles from lower socioeconomic communities whose families can not easily transport their children to even the closest charter school. Charter schools are not obligated to take every child who can afford to attend so that students who performed poorly or had behavioral problems at other schools may be excluded from acceptance. Likewise poorly performing students and those with psychological problems can be expelled from charter schools without any concern for alternative education of the children. Public School systems must provide education to every child and may even facilitate home schooling for those whose behavior prevents them from attending classes with other students.

Roger Parlett

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:29 p.m.

As stated, Michigan African American 4th graders are ranked last in all our states. Our funding and salaries are well above that. As a math tutor who has worked with this group for many years, I see a number of reasons for underperformance. Even when kids have a weak grasp of the math lesson, there is no follow through with repetition- no or little homework. This is a joint problem wih the school and the parent who does not insist that it be done. As the child gets further behind, the next year is worse (trying to do long division when the child does not know his times tables for example). Additionally, some new math series in Ann Arbor boast that no lessons are taken to mastery. Doesn't that sound great. My students from charter schools have significantly more homework and use the traditional math programs..


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 9:27 p.m.

I completely agree with your math assessment.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:56 p.m.

Mr. Parlett: I commend you for your dedication to educating every child using established techniques and programs. I am sure that your students would do well no matter where you were teaching. Like with public schools, charter schools provide a level of education dependent mostly on the ability of student as well as the ability of the teacher. Education is a cooperative effort. Nevertheless, poor children start out their education at a disadvantage which may be reflected more in their language skills than their math skills. I hope that you agree with my position that society must fill in for lack of parental skills at the pre-kindergarten level using head start and other programs. Efforts to improve parental skills can be expected to facilitate the education of their children as well.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:21 p.m.


Dog Guy

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:10 p.m.

"Reinvest" means pour even more money down the public school rathole.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 7:51 p.m.

Here's a way to reinvest in the State's education system: vote for Snyder's recall beginning in May !!!

Dennis Hallock

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 7 p.m.

Mr. Walker, having survived 31 yrs in the auto industry I know what "Best Practices" can do. I've seen wages driven lower, suppliers put out of business, quality levels decline, and an industry that was on the edge of failure. Is that what we want for our schools, our children, our State, and our Country? "Best Practices" is just another form of giving in to big business and driving costs up.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 6:48 p.m.

now we must reinvest in education You bet We HAVE TO do this. We need someone in the pipe line to take over for us. Kids are where it starts. School is where they learn. Stop messing with the kids.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Money, money, money, that's all I hear from educators. Ironically, I do believe these are the toughest times to be a teacher. I would love to see a study done, corollating, when we stopped allowing teachers to use corporal punishment and performance of students, then and now. I have many family members, who are teachers. They spend most of their time, defending themselves against parents, with the "you're picking on my kid" charge. Maybe, if parents were not so concerned about their kid's self esteem, and more concerned with their behavior and citizenship; we would see better results in education. I guarantee you one thing, your children would handle themselves a lot better in the face of adversity, than the young adults do now. I personally, want to see educators make a good living, but we will never solve this problem, without starting in the home. It is broken, because as a society, we are more concerned about a child's self esteem (as false as it may be), than we are, of a child's character.

Ivor Ivorsen

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 6 p.m.

Study for that Calculus test or it's a whuppin!


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

Gov. Snyder has done nothing but rip off teachers and students and give the money to big biz who by the way haven't created one job! If he ever does anything to create a single job it will be of the a low paying non-union no benefits type that his big biz buddies want us to settle for! The auto bailout is what saved Michigan. That and the pent up demand for cars. Period!


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

Begging for funding to educate children in public schools smells as bad as a dead fish by the shore. Republicans are great don't you think?


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

Best way to spend this money: moving to a voucher system. Throwing more money at public schools has not had a good ROI. Let capitalism do its thing in a very important sector -- education.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

My guess, you must be one of those generous republicans that just wants a fair shake for everyone. Wink,wink,nudge ,nudge.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

lefty48197: And how about the resurgence of the auto industry directly because of the actions of the Obama administration. Here is a quote from economists at the University of Michigan published in November 2011: &quot;The automotive industry has been the source of manufacturing's revival, with a third of the manufacturing jobs over the next two years directly attributable to the automotive industry, according to the economists.&quot; (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> The same article reports that &quot;Michigan will add 63,000 jobs in 2011, and the unemployment rate will drop from an average 10.7 percent in 2011 to 10.4 percent in 2012 and 10 percent in 2013, the economists said.&quot; Also the University of Michigan economists expect a decline of job creations in all sectors in 2012 and even fewer in 2013. Governor Snyder deserves little credit for improved employment and has provided no programs that will significantly reduce the existing (over 400,000?) unemployment rolls even while he cuts unemployment insurance payments.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.

Snyder has put Michigan on solid financial ground? After only one year in office? Wow! He's a miracle worker! I wonder if rising revenues due to the economy improving for about 3 straight years has anything to do with the state's improving financial situation?


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

Tom Watkins was a former Superintendent of Schools for Michigan knows better than what he has written in this opinion piece. His excellent article, entitled &quot;Invest in the early years, it benefits us all,&quot; published on September 21, 2011 in &quot;Education News&quot; highlighted the importance of investing in early pre-kindergarten education (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>. Governor Snyder is rightly concerned about the poor performance of many Michigan students but wishes to place blame entirely on our educational programs and the teachers. In Michigan schools, as elsewhere, poor student performance correlates well with low socioeconomic status irrespective of ethnicity. Michigan reports separately the MEAP test results for white and non-white students with the latter consistently under performing the former. However, the state does not report scores based on family income which would likely define the problem better. Children from poorer families arrive at kindergarten with fewer skills needed to be successful in school and under performance will persist throughout each child's education. For an excellent review of this issue please read Susan O'Hara and Robert Pritchard's article, entitled &quot;Socioeconomic Status and Vocabulary Development,&quot; published by at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>. In view of this evidence it is unconscionable that Governor Snyder continues to reduce funding for K-12 education, a $564 million reduction from FY 2011 (an approximate $300 reduction in per pupil funding). He will also &quot;appropriate approximately $110 million for early childhood development programs; that is coterminous with FY 2011&quot; (<a href="" rel='nofollow'>;view=article&amp;id=1018:a-comprehensive-analysis-of-governer-snyders-budget-proposal-for-k-12-education&amp;catid=75:k-12-education-blog&amp;a</a>


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

Synder's plan included a one time fix as well. The poor and unemployed have nothing to give and the retirees are tapped out. Where are the jobs that were promised for the great tax gift. This was the solid financial footing promised.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:14 a.m.

Thank the President for most of the MI job improvement in manufacturing, especially in the auto industry and all of the businesses associated with it across manufacturing and service industries and the flow of income from those employees to other businesses throughout the economy.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

Sorry about that....posted in the wrong place!


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:53 p.m.

Veracity, Not sure where you are getting your information from about charter schools, but you are mistaken on many points. Charter schools are public schools. There are no vouchers to help pay for a charter school because there is NO tuition. It is a PUBLIC school and they can't charge tuition. Therefore there is no bias. Charter schools are obligated to take EVERY student who applies. However, usually there are more applications than space available. When that happens Charter Schools must hold a drawing in which ALL potential parents are invited to attend. On the application for a charter school there is no questions about grades, performance, behavior problems, etc. so how can a potential student be excluded? Please stop spreading your misinformation around.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

Hank, A year ago Michigan unemployment was at 11.1%. It is now at 9.3%. Michigan added over 67,000 jobs during a one year period. Not bad, eh? Michigan has a $457 million surplus. Not bad, eh? And you are complaining why?

Homeland Conspiracy

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

In China


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 1:41 p.m.

&quot;Editor's note: A typo in the headline has been fixed.&quot; But there's one typo you didn't fix: &quot;Gov. Snyder has put Michigan on a solid financial foundation.&quot;


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

It is nice to see that the typo got fixed.

Duc d'Escargot

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

If even had the most minimal copy editing or proofreading, the typo shouldn't have made it to the online edition in the first place.