June 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

LABOR VOICES

Michigan schools are hurting

Don't judge Gov. Rick Snyder's educational record by election-year tactics, Cook writes. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

After years of crippling budget cuts to public education, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder agreed to a small funding increase in the 2014-15 education budget. This increase, timed to coincide with the governor’s re-election campaign, seems more politically motivated than an act of generosity.

But a long record of deep cuts to public schools will not be erased with a miniscule election-year funding increase.

The foundation allowance increase varies by district from a low of 29 cents a day per student to about a dollar a day at the top end. This is hardly a windfall and doesn’t even keep pace with inflation.

Today, we have 50 school districts in deficit spending and facing financial collapse. A funding increase of a mere 29 cents a day will not change that. And it certainly won’t alleviate the financial strain on all school districts across the state — districts still coping with the $1 billion cut in funding Gov. Rick Snyder handed them in his first year in office.

“Best practices,” a gimmick the Snyder administration used in past education budgets, is employed again in this year’s budget. Best practices is a list of criteria districts must meet in order to receive a small amount of additional funding.

This year’s best practices list once again includes getting bids from private, for-profit companies for transportation, custodial/maintenance work and food service. With Michigan already leading the nation in the number of for-profit charter schools, having expanded the number of for-profit cyber schools, this is simply a continuation of the Snyder administration’s push for more corporate takeover of public education.

And to make the list of best practices even worse, new to the list this year is the opportunity for districts to earn a little more money by removing certain subjects of bargaining from local teachers union contracts. Privatizing support staff work and removing bargaining language from contracts does nothing to improve educational outcomes. It is another disgraceful attack on school employees and their local unions that uses education funding to coerce school districts into joining that attack.

While adding anti-union measures as incentives for additional funding, Snyder and the Legislature removed some items from the previous best practices list which benefited students. In past years, districts received credit for offering “dual enrollment” programs — an enrichment opportunity for high-achieving students to earn college credits. Also removed from the best practices list was incentive for districts to provide physical education and health classes. Given the epidemic of childhood obesity and the importance of health education, eliminating incentives to offer these classes defies logic.

The extremely small funding increase for public schools is reason for much concern. Take the negligible funding increase; add to it politically motivated incentives for a few more dollars; and subtract actual academic incentives for more funding — it’s an education budget formula that compounds the damage this governor and the Legislature has done to students and public schools over the last four years.

However, if one were to look on the bright side, at least they passed an education budget, which is more than they can claim when it comes to dealing with Michigan’s deteriorating roads. The Republicans, who control all of state government, failed to agree among themselves on how to provide funding to repair our roads. Therefore, our roads will continue to get worse. That too is bad for many school children across the state when, in a few months, they get on their buses and travel over those dangerously deteriorating roads and bridges.

The damage to public schools and negligence in maintaining our roads are legacies Snyder and the Legislature should have to answer for — and something voters should remember in November.

Steven Cook is president of the Michigan Education Association.