Opinion: Voters did not intend School Aid Fund to be used for higher education. Use it to avoid cuts to K-12 education
Dear Governor Snyder,
I am writing regarding cuts to K-12 education at a time when the School Aid Fund has a healthy surplus. In my opinion, using money from the School Aid Fund for purposes other than K-12 education is violating the trust of Michigan's taxpayers. I feel very strongly that the School Aid Fund should only be used for funding K-12 schools and nothing else.
While transferring money from the School Aid Fund to support colleges and universities is, as you have said, allowable by the Michigan Constitution, I firmly believe it is playing a shell game with our tax dollars.
The citizens and taxpayers of Michigan have traditionally viewed the School Aid Fund as tax dollars that were specifically meant to be spent on K-12 schools, especially in light of their support of increasing the sales tax as called for by "Proposal A." Proposal A was sold as a "fix" for K-12 funding, which was heavily dependent on property taxes at the time. It also took funding control away from the local school boards and gave it to the state. I firmly believe this is clearly evident in the language of Proposal A.
The exact wording of Proposal A on the 1994 ballot:
A proposal to increase the state sales and use tax rates from 4% to 6%, limit annual increases in property tax assessments, exempt school operating millages from uniform taxation requirement and require 3/4 vote of Legislature to exceed statutorily established school operating millage rates. The proposed constitutional amendment would:
1. Limit annual assessment increase for each property parcel to 5% or inflation rate, whichever is less. When property is sold or transferred, adjust assessment to current value.
2. Increase the sales/use tax. Dedicate additional revenue to schools.
3. Exempt school operating millages from uniform taxation requirement.
4. Require 3/4 vote of Legislature to exceed school operating millage rates.
5. Activate laws raising additional school revenues through taxation including partial restoration of property tax.
6. Nullify alternative laws raising school revenues through taxation, including an increase income tax, personal exemption increase, and partial restoration of property taxes.
Should this proposal be adopted? Yes___ No___
All of these points in the language of Proposal A addressed K-12 funding issues as they existed at the time and do not allude to any funding issues related to colleges and universities. As a result, I really do not see anywhere in the ballot language that mentions using the sales tax that replaced the property tax for funding colleges.
The taxpayers are weary of politicians calling for increased taxes for one purpose, then misusing those new taxes for a different purpose. Our current Social Security system as managed by the federal government is one such example.
If there is a surplus in the School Aid Fund, and if you do not want to spend it on K-12 schools, then shouldn't that surplus be returned to the taxpayers?
I have resided in the Pinckney Community School District for 15 years and firmly believe that the district has been good stewards of the tax monies provided to them. I strongly believe the Pinckney Community School District provides a very good value to the taxpayers, especially when compared to other richer districts, such as ones in Oakland and Macomb counties.
If I remember correctly, the Pinckney Community School District was one of the first districts in the state to privatize some services in the mid-1970s and again in the 1990s. The district has also strived to streamline and consolidate services with other districts in Livingston County. In addition, the teachers of the Pinckney Schools during this time of recession have been cooperative in their negotiations regarding pay, benefit concessions, class sizes, and support services. These are just a few examples of how the district has strived to be cost effective with the finances provided to it. The voters of the Pinckney District have been supportive but diligent in their oversight of the district's expenditures. Most recently, the voters in the Pinckney District approved a bond issue which included significant funds to provide 21st century technology tools to students and teachers.
However, I am afraid that all of this due diligence and support may be at risk as funding to the district continues to be cut at a time when there is a surplus in the School Aid Fund. My youngest son is currently a freshman at Pinckney High School. I fear the proposed financial cuts combined with increased expenses being imposed by the pension system will greatly impact his educational experiences and disrupt the innovations under way by the district for the remainder of his time in school.
I do recognize that there are structural changes that must be made regarding school finances. However, the Pinckney Community School District has made steps toward some of the structural changes and I believe will continue to do so in the future, especially in light of some of the school reforms now being considered by you and the legislature. To conclude, if there were a deficit in the School Aid Fund I could understand the desire to make the cuts now under consideration. However, the School Aid Fund has a surplus and I cannot help but make my objections to the funding reductions to K-12 education clear to you and my elected representatives.
Dale Rogers resides in Hamburg Township with his wife and two sons. He is a national board certified career and technical education teacher at Novi High School and is an adjunct assistant professor at Madonna University.