Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

January 26, 2014

Snyder takes on funding

LANSING (AP) — His re-election bid all but officially underway, Gov. Rick Snyder is taking on what he says is “misinformation” over his record of funding public schools not long before he puts forward his next budget.

Since the Republican governor took office three years ago, he says, state aid to K-12 districts is up an average of $660 per student. After hearing the figure in Snyder’s recent State of the State address, House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel called it “simply untrue.”

What gives?

Until a few years ago, the primary marker of Michigan’s school funding was the state’s per-pupil grant, which varies by district and is set by lawmakers and the governor. The districts spend the money primarily for employee wages, benefits and a required payment to support pensions and retiree health care.

When Snyder took over, he and majority Republican lawmakers began emphasizing the need to address growing retirement costs, which have nearly tripled in 15 years because of rising medical costs, more retirees and fewer active teachers to contribute to the system amid declining enrollment, and lagging investment returns.

Now the state is directly picking up some of the ballooning retirement expenses instead of including the money in districts’ traditional per-pupil aid, and Republicans say districts can better plan their budgets.

“It’s critically important we stand up and we properly fund our pension plans to make sure those 440,000 school employees and retirees can count on a solid pension, and at the same time it allows school districts to put dollars in the classrooms instead of pension plans,” Snyder said in his Jan. 16 speech. His budget proposal is due in early February.

Greimel, of Auburn Hills, concedes that Snyder and the GOP put “a lot” of money into retirement funds but says they slashed the per-pupil grant.

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