Thursday, September 24, 2009

We Could Use Us Some Edumication

I wrote a week or so ago that those of us that live up here in the sticks are given short shift when it comes to our regional concerns. In essence, it was my point that regardless of the issue, regardless of the regional import, regardless of the impact on northerners versus the impact on southeastern Michiganders, it would largely be those in the Detroit area making the decisions.

I admitted then, and I admit now, that this is the way that it is, and population centers deserve more power than do us rural hicks anyway. After all, most of us country folk lose a majority of our teeth shortly after puberty and have only recently discovered the benefits of a good flush toilet. We need the guidance.

Now I hear that legislators have been meeting feverishly in Lansing to determine what bloody cuts it might be forced to make in order to balance our state's disastrous budget. I hear too that education is involved in these considerations. It makes complete logical sense to me that education would be one of those areas heaviest hit by the proposed cost cutting. After all, you cannot cut where you haven't spent. (Unless, that is, you are talking about cutting taxes to people who don't pay any. That can be done in a snap.)

A lot of big numbers are being thrown around. Perhaps one of the most significant is the $218 per student that state officials say will need to be cut to local school districts in order to help close the budget shortfall. The Detroit Free Press has posted a PDF document that does the math on how this cut will affect individual districts based upon their enrollment.

Two hundred and eighteen dollars is a lot of money when it is multiplied by the number of students in just about any district. But, $218 is a lot more money for schools that are funded at the tragically named "foundation grant" minimum of $7,316 per student, than it is for rich districts that receive much more money per student.

As an example, schools receiving the minimum per pupil funding would lose an equivalent of 2.98 percent per student, while the richest district of Bloomfield Hills, which receives $12,444 per student from the state, would lose only 1.75 percent of their funding.

If the goal is to come up with a certain number of dollars to be cut state wide from education, clearly the most equitable way to do this is to reduce funding to districts on a percentage basis rather than a basis that allows politically empowered (and rich) districts to keep more unto themselves while toothless northern children are forced to learn their gozintas on crudely fashioned desks made from deer antlers and dirt.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, there are relatively few students that are compensated for at a much higher rate than the $7,316 minimum. If Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, etc., were to have their budgets cut by a fairer $400 or so per student rather than the $218 evenly suggested for every district, the money saved from such an adjustment wouldn't amount to much of any reduction in cuts for the other districts. While this is certainly true, I do not believe it should relieve state legislators from such considerations just because rich districts have greater resources to fight these battles. (Incidentally, if a real battle does erupt you should be warned that our kids know how to use slingshots.)

The budget process is not an easy one especially in hard times when revenues are plummeting. In light of that, if education dollars need to be cut, so be it. However, the Michigan legislature owes it to the entire state of Michigan and its children that any cuts that are made are made equitably.

cross posted at Right Michigan

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