This article originally appeared in The Detroit News.
The crack of the bat in Detroit. Tulips blooming in Holland. Democrats and union bosses complaining about non-existent K-12 public school funding problems in Lansing. Ah, the rituals of Spring.
While the rest of the state prepares for Easter, starts planning getaways and family vacations, or daydreams of summer while shopping for Tigers tickets, Lansing politicians are working out the details that’ll make up the year’s public spending budget.
That means, like clockwork, teachers unions, liberal think tanks, and Democrat primary candidates are working the same old saw that Michigan’s public schools aren’t getting the funding they need because of mean old Republicans. It’s an absurd claim.
Just look at Flint. Flint Community Schools union officials routinely try to make headlines demanding an answer to so-called funding inequalities in public education. What they – and the think tanks pushing the “Republicans-haven’t-done-enough” mantra – won’t tell you is that the Flint school district's general fund receives better than $20,150 per pupil per year, while the statewide average hovers just over $9,900.
Time after time, union leaders in districts receiving the most complain the loudest. All the while, the facts on the ground tell a story that might surprise you.
Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican majorities in the House and Senate have, for years, fully funded public education across the state, and quite literally done it better than any Democrat in the state ever has. This year won’t be an exception. Snyder’s 2018-2019 budget proposal would provide a huge new windfall to every public school, with most in the state seeing a $240 per pupil funding boost.
That would be the biggest single Foundation Allowance increase in 17 years – since another Republican, John Engler, was governor – and would continue a perfect record for the administration and his legislative allies; eight budgets, eight big public education funding hikes.
How big? According to state budget figures, state spending on K-12 education (not including local and federal dollars) increased by nearly $2 billion – up to $12.9 billion in 2017-2018, from $10.8 billion seven years earlier.
That’s real change and real investment. It’s a commitment to public education that looks all the more impressive when compared to the way Snyder’s Democratic predecessor treated Michigan’s public schools.
For all their considerable bluster, the last time Democrats held the state House and the governor’s office, education spending was slashed time and again. According to a 2010 analysis of budget data by the Associated Press, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm cut per-pupil funding for public schools 3 of the 8 years she was in office, and failed to secure any increase at all in another. One of her first acts as governor was slashing $127 million in public school funding literally only weeks after taking office.
When adjusting for population, Democrats’ education cuts were significantly larger than any of their line item reductions. By the end of their last 8 year run at the controls in Lansing, roughly 120,000 public school students had left the state for school elsewhere, a migration that alone accounted for $1 billion in less per-pupil funding flowing from Lansing into local classrooms. Schools responded as you’d expect – scuttling programs, closing facilities, and laying off our kids’ teachers.
What a difference eight years makes. Our public schools are being funded at a higher level than ever before, and they’re now anticipating the biggest single-year funding boost in nearly two decades. Not that you’d know it listening to Democrats and their union shills.
They’ve made big headlines this year with chants and hyperbole claiming Democrats are the answer to greater public school investment. Unfortunately for them, the facts and data tell a very different story. Republicans, it turns out, get the job done.
Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.