Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

July 11, 2013

Phil Power: Accord needed on education

The education industry in Michigan is facing a coming tidal wave of change — and the landscape is going to be rearranged.

Money may seem to many to be the major issue, but it’s not. According to Gov. Rick Snyder’s message to the legislature, the newly adopted state budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 proposes to spend a total of $15.1 billion on our K-12 schools, community colleges and public universities. That’s nearly one-third of the entire $49.5 billion the state plans to spend on everything.

But that huge figure masks serious and growing problems with teaching and learning at all levels. Everybody knows the system isn’t working, but there is wide disagreement as to why.

Though the Snyder administration says spending on schools is up three percent over last year (for a per-pupil foundation grant of $7,076), critics say that’s not enough, and that schools have been shortchanged for years. But community conversations conducted by the nonpartisan, nonprofit The Center for Michigan last year found citizens deeply dissatisfied with the results the schools achieve, especially those serving poor and minority communities.

Moreover, Michigan’s patchwork of mostly small school districts – there are about 549 local school districts, 57 intermediate school districts (ISDs) and more than 250 charters ­– is costly, inefficient and slow to change. Already, Michigan faces a record number of school districts in deficit, with two districts – Buena Vista and Inkster – all but certain to be dissolved in the near future.

State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan is proposing two far-reaching reforms. One would sharply decrease the number of local districts by merging all schools in each of Michigan’s 83 counties into county-wide districts. His other idea is to consolidate all non-instructional services into the state’s ISDs, a step he says would save a lot of money, while leaving decisions about how and what to teach up to existing local school districts.

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