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Our take on developments in school funding and policy.

Opening life’s doors with math

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Framing: More Powerful Than A Locomotive

Not long ago, I had the good fortune to find a seat at a special screening of the new documentary "Waiting for Superman" in Ann Arbor. The documentary is a skillfully constructed view of how our urban public schools often fail their students, though it is not without some serious faults. (Many of those are discussed better, elsewhere.) But the film overreaches when it tries to claim that because some urban schools are in trouble, the entirety of American public education is in trouble. That claim, for which the film provides no evidence, motivates the film's call for radical reform. But if the problems are not so endemic, and if different schools struggle with different issues, maybe the answer is more complicated, and varied, as well.

Clear thinking about: Running public schools "like a business"

One of the things we hear over and over are calls to run our public schools "like a business." The basic argument is that if schools were run in a more businesslike manner, they would not have the budget problems we are seeing today. It sounds like a simple argument, and that gives it great appeal. The reality is more complex. Let's take a look at how it plays out in the real world.

Clear thinking: the school funding situation

One of the interesting things about doing local advocacy work is that it gives you a whole new perspective on how the public views school funding issues. It can also give you a detailed look at the fuzzy thinking of those who argue that our schools can't, or shouldn't, be given the resources to avoid major cuts to programs and personnel. As part of our "Project Washtenaw," MIPFS volunteers have been engaging the communities in Washtenaw County about the crisis their public schools now face. One year, a failed county millage proposal, and a bundle of desperate budget cuts later, we've learned some important lessons about how school funding is often treated in the public discourse and how that might be changed for the better. We'd like to share them with you.

Facing a clouded future: options

h2. Part II: The problem, and a glimpse at solutions we might consider _In this two-part essay, MIPFS Executive Director Steve Norton reflects on the defeat of a proposed regional enhancement millage for the Washtenaw County area, and the choices it leaves school districts facing. While the details may differ, these same dilemmas face every school district in Michigan._ The poor state of Michigan's economy, combined with bad tax policy choices in earlier years, mean that school districts across Michigan are having to make huge cuts after years of belt-tightening. The defeat of the Washtenaw Schools Millage has removed one option we had to soften the blow. *But remember: we still have kids to educate. AAPS's total enrollment actually increased this year. Unlike, say, the auto industry, our schools are not in trouble because of a lack of customers. Demand for a good education has never been higher.* Moving forward, we have two issues on each of two levels: revenues and costs, at the local and state levels. Let's look at each.
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Facing a clouded future

h2. Part I: Reflections on the defeat of the Washtenaw Schools Millage _In this two-part essay, MIPFS Executive Director Steve Norton reflects on the defeat of a proposed regional enhancement millage for the Washtenaw County area, and the choices it leaves school districts facing. While the details may differ, these same dilemmas face every school district in Michigan._ We as a community will be faced with unpalatable choices as we try to close the $15 to $17 million budget gap that Ann Arbor's schools will face over the next year, with more cuts to come in the coming years. But before we can make sound choices, we must have a real understanding of what our schools do and what resources that requires. And in order to do _that,_ we must get past the caricatures which were painted during the millage campaign and instead speak to each other as real people with real concerns.
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Schools are the foundation of our future

This article was published in the Other Voices series of op-ed columns by the Ann Arbor News on Sunday, June 14, 2009. The "version posted on the Mlive.com web site is available here":http://www.mlive.com/opinion/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2009/06/other_voices_a_.... The school budget news from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and other communities in Washtenaw County is disturbing, and for good reason. School officials say that in the next two years we will all be driving over the edge of a "funding cliff" that threatens to injure our public schools for years to come. Some school districts are on the brink of failure, while others are having to cut teaching staff for the first time in recent memory. The depth of the coming crisis varies for each district, but the crisis is coming just the same. The question is, should we try to do something about it? Should we the people, the taxpayers, be worried? The answer should be a resounding "YES!"
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Director's Corner: Thoughts on schools, teachers and unions

*The subtitle of a MIPFS position paper, "Why educating kids isn't like building cars," can get a couple of interesting reactions.* For some, it confirms the idea that unions have no place in the schools. For others, it smacks of a betrayal of union solidarity. I didn't mean either of those things when I wrote it, and now seems like a good time to explain what we do mean by that phrase.

Time to leave the "State of Denial"

*This Friday (9 January), the state's top economists will meet, as required by law, and project how much tax revenue Michigan will gather this fiscal year. That's when we find out how bad things are.* If, as most observers suspect, they estimate that revenues will be less than expected, the governor is required by law to propose spending cuts _for the current year_ to bring the budget into balance - unless the Legislature can find a way to plug the hole. This process includes K-12 school funding; the vast majority of the money to operate Michigan's schools comes from the state School Aid Fund and is supported by state-wide taxes. This is not the first time our schools have gone through this ringer, but maybe it should be the last?

"Brother, can you spare a dime?"

Here at MIPFS, we have always argued that private giving to our public schools can be an important way for communities to take back the destiny of their school systems. But we also insist that private giving cannot, and should not, replace our common responsibility to see to the education of our communities' children. Evidently some of our state legislators do not quite agree.


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