School spending is up, and on right priorities

The Detroit News
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Of all the criticisms that gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer slung against Gov. Rick Snyder at Sunday night's town hall, the claim Snyder slashed education funding irked the governor the most. That's probably because it's not true. Overall K-12 funding has increased each year during Snyder's first term.

One of Schauer's favorite sound bites is that Snyder has cut education funding by $1 billion.

He's repeated it enough that many Michigan residents likely believe it. Schauer's campaign commercials highlight teachers confirming the cuts have hurt their classrooms.

Regardless of veracity, that's a convincing tactic, and Snyder waited too long to start aggressively fighting these claims.

"It is a lie," Snyder has said repeatedly in recent weeks, including Sunday's forum. "I've been truthful about our numbers in education."

The governor maintains that state education dollars have increased each year during his first term — to $11.7 billion in 2015 from $10.6 billion in 2011. Those numbers come from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, and have been confirmed by the Senate Fiscal Agency.

But Schauer has dwelled on education cuts that were made in the first budget after Snyder became governor. Most of that funding drop, however, came from lost federal resources. And the state even made up most of the difference that year, and continued to increase funding annually.

Overall spending on education is up $1.1 billion since Snyder took office. The boost of $175 million this year to expand public preschool is an investment Snyder has made a top priority.

Schauer likes to say that there are fewer dollars in the classroom, choosing his words carefully but ignoring one of Snyder's most significant contributions to the state's public schools. The governor has dedicated $783 million more to shore up teacher pension plans.

That's a huge relief to Michigan school districts, and teachers should understand the value of this as well —as it directly impacts their retirement.

Until the state stepped up its contribution to the Michigan Public School Employees' Retirement System, school districts saw a quickly increasing chunk of their budgets headed into the retirement system to keep it afloat. In 2012, districts were sending around 25 percent of payroll into the retirement fund.

The state's investment into the system has capped that amount for schools. And while it's technically correct to say the pension boost isn't going directly into the classroom, it's disingenuous to say it's not helping schools' bottom lines.

The independent Citizens Research Council did an extensive analysis in 2013 regarding the additional state funding into the retirement system, and its findings support Snyder's assertion that the extra retirement resources help free more money for the classroom.

"Regardless of one's perspective, what is clear is that the rapid growth in public school employer costs related to MPSERS has had a substantial impact in crowding out revenues available for other educational purposes and that this impact has left public schools more financially constrained than they were a decade ago," the report stated.

When taking the retirement funding increase into consideration, the state per-pupil investment has risen to $7,978 in 2014 from $6,884 in 2010.

Michigan's investment in K-12 education has risen the last four years, and benefits are significant for public education in the state.

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