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Forum: Actions speak louder than words

By Kelly Hall        
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Actions speak louder than words, and we show what we value by how we invest our resources. The actions of our legislature and governor demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice the education of our youngest citizens and dramatically weaken the viability of K-12 public education.

The education budgets proposed by the governor, the State Senate and House all continue to slash K-12 school funding. Those budget proposals cut funding to Traverse City Area Public Schools by $30, $41 and $51 per student, respectively.

The cuts are particularly daunting in light of the dramatic cuts schools have implemented over the past five years. TCAPS has responsibly reduced costs during the decade-long economic recession.

TCAPS cut more than $11.4 million since 2008, or $1,104 per student, during a period of stable enrollment. The district reduced salary and benefit costs 17 percent in the last three years alone. Despite these cuts, the district still faces a $1.5 million shortfall this year, which will be compounded by increases in state-imposed retirement costs.

TCAPS’ reserve fund balance will be eliminated by 2016 absent an increase in state funding. We would be in a position of having to file a deficit elimination plan with the state two years from now. Such a filing is the first step to the imposition of a state-mandated Emergency Manager, who would take over operations and decision-making.

The continual funding reductions are starving public education out of meaningful existence. TCAPS and other inequitably low-funded districts suffer the most. TCAPS has acted in a fiscally responsible manner, but time is running out.

The real threat of Emergency Manager takeover of high-quality, reputable districts such as TCAPS should sound an alarm throughout our state.

The state School Aid Fund is sufficiently robust to pay for an increase in funding for K-12 education, contrary to the claims of our own locally-elected state legislators.

Proposal A, approved by Michigan voters in 1994, established the School Aid Fund for the express purpose of financing K-12 public education. Refusal to use the School Aid Fund to adequately finance our K-12 schools violates the intent of Proposal A.

The legislature and governor’s proposed cuts, despite having the means to increase such funding, raise questions about their true intentions. Their claims of desiring to “live within our means” are belied by the fact that the School Aid Fund can pay for increases in funding. Their continued cuts to education are also contrary to their oft-stated desire for positive economic development, as it is well-established that an educated workforce is necessary for economic prosperity and growth.

Perhaps the concerted effort to starve K-12 education is really about pursuing a political agenda, including squeezing professional educators out of the middle class. Such a political motive contravenes the state’s responsibility to properly provide for the education of kids, and uses kids as political pawns.

Shameful, indeed.

About the author: Kelly Hall is president of the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education.

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