Boosting K-12 education funding a key focus of ‘Reinventing Macomb’

Jan 31, 2013

Boosting funds for K-12 schools, especially special education and pre-kindergarten, is emerging as a key post-recession issue for Michigan, according to federal, state and local officials who gathered in Shelby Township on Monday.

“I don’t see how we expect to have a quality workforce and a good quality of life for future generations if we keep cutting education,” said state Rep. Marilyn Lane, who indicated early childhood education must become a priority.

The “Reinventing Macomb” session held by the Macomb County Chamber of Commerce also heard from U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, who said class sizes are a growing concern as school cutbacks take their toll. On a recent visit to a Warren Consolidated school, the congressman said he encountered sixth grade classes with 45 students per classroom.

“If that’s ‘adequate funding,’ I think we need to think twice,” said Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat who represents most of Macomb County.

Michigan’s per-pupil funding for K-12, adjusted for inflation, is at its lowest level in 15 years. The state ranks second from last among Great Lakes states in the amount invested in education.

For the Monday event at Cherry Creek Golf Club, attendance was down substantially among elected officials due to the snowy conditions.

The breakfast meeting was sponsored by Comcast and the company’s senior manager for Michigan government and regulatory affairs, Gerald Smith, announced that the cable provider will be creating 100 new jobs in Macomb County at a call center. Comcast will also open one of its X-finity stores on Hall Road in Macomb Township on Feb. 25.

That was essentially the only good news of the morning.

The session came on the heels of numbers released by a research group, Center for Michigan, which showed considerable public dissatisfaction with the state’s school system. Based on comments received at a yearlong series of town hall meetings, Center for Michigan found that the most common grade awarded to the schools by parents is a “C.”

In addition, the center learned that three-fourths of town hall participants consider pre-K and early childhood education “critical” or “important.”

Yet, school funding advocates may get caught up in another hot issue in Lansing — funding for road and bridge improvements. If those sales taxes paid at the pump that help finance education were instead spent on highway projects — one proposal that is mentioned — that would cost the K-12 system $850 million a year.

At the same time, none of the officials on hand seemed ready to stomach alternative road funding solutions, such as an increase in the gas tax, sales tax or vehicle registration fees.

As for the elimination of the property tax on business machinery and equipment, Shelby Township Supervisor Richard Stathakis said the replacement funds chosen by the Legislature should do the job. If not, a 2014 ballot proposal will grant Michigan voters the option of going back to the Personal Property Tax.

County Executive Mark Hackel said he believes the county can weather the post-PPT changes in funding, but he cautioned that several Macomb cities and townships will face “tremendous challenges” that may mean more budget cuts.

Democratic County Commissioner Veronica Klinefelt, a former East Detroit school board member, said she fears Michigan will enter a downward spiral if funds are not available for roads, police, fire protection, parks and recreation, and extracurricular school activities. Increasingly, young families and college graduates will go elsewhere to live if current trends continue, she said.

“We can attract all the businesses in the world, but if we keep losing our talented young people there’s not going to be anybody here to take those jobs,” Klinefelt said.