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As more schools struggle with meeting their budgets, more districts are turning to private-sector vendors to provide services. It’s a smart way to save money and keep more dollars in the classroom.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has found that 70.8 percent of Michigan public school districts now contract out to private vendors to provide food service, custodial or transportation services. That’s up dramatically from 2001, when 31 percent sought outside contractors.

Custodial services have grown the most. Now more than half of the state’s districts contract out the service.

Privatization of transportation services has also expanded significantly. Nearly 27 percent of districts now contract out transportation, up from 3.9 percent 12 years ago.

The Mackinac Center received responses from officials in every district, so the report offers an accurate picture of privatization. Districts that haven’t gotten on board should consider it.

Jobless rate keeps falling

The Michigan jobless rate continues to fall, and that’s good news for the state as it works to rebuild its economic vitality.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for July fell to 5.3 percent, which is the national average. This is the lowest monthly rate since August 2001, which marks tremendous progress for a state that previously led the country in unemployment. The low number does reflect that 12,000 people left the labor force.

“The hard work we’ve done together in Michigan to boost our economy and create more and better jobs continues to pay off,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement.

He also pointed out that Michigan still has room for improvement. Snyder says that more than 420,000 private sector jobs and opportunities have been created since the end of 2010, but that more should be done to encourage job growth.

The governor frequently talks about how more than 80,000 jobs go unfilled in Michigan because employers can’t find candidates with the right skills. Addressing that skills gap could go a long way in reducing the jobless rate even further.

Trouble with unemployment insurance

Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency seems to have fumbled the implementation of its unemployment insurance system, MiDAS, which has unjustly charged some Michiganians with fraud.

The agency is locked in a federal court case with a number of victims of fraud charges.

MiDAS is a computer system that handles taxes, unemployment benefits and adjudication. It was supposed to save the state money, reduce paperwork and improve customer service.

Stephanie Comai, director of the Talent Investment Agency, which oversees unemployment, has acknowledged the concerns over unjust fraud cases, but said she believes the system is working well.

Mark Risk, an unemployment attorney from Traverse City, says he has dealt with more than 25 cases since MiDAS was rolled out in 2013. Every fraud case he has argued in the last two years has been determined unjust.

MiDAS was created to find inconsistencies between the unemployment insurance filings of employers and employees. But if there’s a glitch in the system, the state needs to address it.

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