Schauer, union chief hit school funding

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Dearborn — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer continued to criticize the lack of state education funding Friday as he toured a Dearborn elementary school that officials say has become overcrowded and starved for classroom resources.

Schauer and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten toured William Ford Elementary School, where most of the 660 students from Arab-American families need added instruction because their primary language is not English.

The 19,500-student Dearborn Public Schools experienced a drop of $470 per student in operations funding under the first budget Gov. Rick Snyder signed, amounting to a $10 million loss, superintendent Brian Whiston said.

Snyder and the Legislature also eliminated an extra $5 million "carve-out" for Dearborn for the added cost of its large population of at-risk children, Whiston said.

"When somebody like the current governor says 'I put more money in (education)' ... if a school doesn't see it, then that means there's not more money," Weingarten said.

Snyder and Schauer have been locked in a political war of competing facts about education funding in the race for governor this fall, as the incumbent continues to tout that state funding has increased $1.1 billion since he took office.

After Snyder started saying Schauer is "lying" when he says the governor cut $1 billion from education, Schauer has turned his criticism to money getting into school classrooms. The vast majority of Snyder's increased aid for education — $783 million — is shoring up an underfunded pension system for public school employees.

Friday's tour was meant to highlight that reality, Schauer said, as the school principal showed him and Weingarten a teacher lounge, storage room and a portion of the library that have been converted into classroom space. Dearborn teachers said the school district also has cut the number of custodians, reducing the frequency that their rooms are cleaned to once a week.

Since cutting school operating funds in the 2012 fiscal year, the Legislature has focused increases the past three years on the lowest-funded districts, boosting the minimum funding amount to $7,251 per student.

As a better-funded district that gets $8,412 per student, the Legislature has restored $80 per Dearborn student during the past two fiscal years, Whiston said.

The state's payment of a portion of Dearborn's retirement costs amounts to an extra $571 per student this fiscal year, according to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.

"Yes, the governor and Legislature have paid for some of that, but not all of that," Whiston said of the state's help with retirement costs.

Schauer, a former one-term congressman from Battle Creek, said the finances of Dearborn schools is evidence that Snyder's claims on delivering more money for education doesn't add up at the classroom level.

"He knows every accounting gimmick in the book and in this case his math may add up for him but it's fuzzy math when it comes to measuring what's really going on in our schools," Schauer said after the tour.

GOP state Rep. Pete Lund, a defender of Snyder's education funding priorities, said the fact is the extra money for teacher pensions and increases during the past two years exceeds the cut Dearborn schools got in the 2011-12 school year.

"That's a perfect place for Mark Schauer to be because it fits into his narrative that more money is really a cut," said Lund, R-Shelby Township. "Everybody wishes we could get more money into education, and I'm sorry that a $1 billion increase is not enough. ... Mark Schauer spent too much time in Washington. Where else than Washington can a $1.1 billion increase be called a $1 billion cut? That's Nancy Pelosi math."