CRC reports on what Prop A hath wrought

There's political dynamite to be detonated in the latest report on education funding out of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

Not from CRC, mind you. As usual, the invaluable nonprofit, nonpartisan organization does what it does: tackle the numbers and details to show citizens who want to know what is actually going on with state spending and policies. In this case, the eye turns to Proposal A, which redefined school funding in the mid-1990s.

Among conclusions from cRC:
1. Prop A "worked" in that it addressed the chronic inequality in per-pupil funding that long existed across district lines in the state.
2. School districts that were on the low end of funding prior to Prop A's enactment did pretty well.

And now the interesting part: "(F)or the districts that were high spending prior to Proposal A, caps on spending combined with much more modest grant increases have led to per pupil revenues in these districts that are significantly below the pre-Proposal A level when adjusted for inflation."

That's a diplomatic way of saying that the students and parents in wealthier school districts are being held back by Prop A.

This isn't exactly a surprise to those inside school finance. Michigan citizens and legislators never choose to pursue equality by picking the highest-funding district and figuring out a way to pull everyone up to that level. A phased-approach was adopted whereby the lower-funded districts received larger annual boosts to catch up with the high funders. But the law constrained the high funders to help close the gap.

This wasn't a huge deal when the economy was fine and per-pupil rates advanced every year. Times are different.

With even well-heeled communities and school districts such as Okemos, East Grand Rapids and Birmingham having to cut school budgets, how long before political pressure mounts in Lansing to "do something" about Prop A?

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Ruth Ann Jamnick
Tue, 09/06/2011 - 12:19pm
The Headlee Amendment is one of the other factors challenging the finances of our School Districts and Local Units of Government in these difficult times. It too limits increases in tax levies for any entity that is a portion of our property tax bills. It is my understanding that over the years very few people in Lansing were paying attention to the combined impact of both of these voter approved amendments to our Michigan Constitution. In conversations with others about funding our local government entities, I often ask people if they voted for either of the proposed amendments and the vast majority of people respond 'yes'. I then remind them that both of them are doing what they were intended to do ... limit revenues. Next comment shared with me is "I never thought of that'. It is time for serious consideration to be given to their impact.
Rich Bond
Wed, 09/07/2011 - 2:02pm
Another way to look at this is that Prop A was successful at protecting citizens from unrestrained property tax increases. The ballots are still filled with "but it's only $75 for the average household" initiatives. I don't know why my city is complaining because my tax bill has not decreased one iota, even in the recession. The school teachers still have defined benefit retirement plans, many public employees still have early retirement plans, and many other unsustainable benefits and programs that are just not available to private sector employees. I have yet to see real fundamental reform at the local level. Time for an enhanced Prop A program. Thank God for Governor Rick and his sensible look at reform.