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Legislative wrap-up

*While the economic news was bad, school funding didn't take a huge hit in 2008.* Part of this was because of the increase in income tax rates for FY08 (really a restoration of the rates in effect a few years ago), and because of earmarking from the new Michigan Business Tax. *The other reason is that Michigan as a whole has been losing students*, and since state money is paid out on a per-pupil basis, that means the state's overall obligations are lower. That's small comfort for districts that lose both students and money, even if their foundation allowance crept up a bit. Losing ten students doesn't let a district cut much in the way of expenses, but it does lose them something on the order of $80,000. There wasn't a huge battle over the school aid budget this year, which was good. Foundation allowances weren't cut, which was also good. Tax revenues tumbled, especially sales tax collections, which does not bode well for the current year. We may, however, avoid outright prorations (where the state claws back money earlier promised to schools for the current year). Finally, sinking fund legislation "(see our article here)":http://www.miparentsforschools.org/node/95 passed the House but died in the Senate after the leadership there sent it to fizzle in committee on their last session day. All bills not passed in the 2007-08 legislative session are now dead, and we must start anew in the 2009-10 session. To many, the intent of the bill (which would allow school districts to use sinking fund dollars for technology and school buses, instead of requiring a bond issue or using scarce operating funds) makes a great deal of sense. School groups, including the Michigan Association of School Boards, pressed hard for the legislation (and MIPFS tried to help out in the final push). Opponents of the bill trotted out a fear of tax hikes. In a particularly brazen example, the "Michigan Chamber of Commerce accused the House":http://www.michamber.com/mx/dec08#sinkingfund of passing a property tax increase "in the dead of night." What they did not say is that the bill contains no tax increases. Nor did they say that their argument, and their figures, depends on the notion that school districts would then go to their voters and ask for sinking funds to pay for technology and buses. *Any such measures would have to be supported by local voters, but apparently the Chamber feels it must protect us local voters from ourselves. Clearly, we can't be trusted to decide what is best for our own schools.* The new legislative session begins January 14th, and on January 9th we find out how the revenue picture looks. Here's hoping for a better New Year!
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