By Sen. Patrick Colbeck
7th Senate District
Funding for education is a top priority for many in our state, including myself. Each state budget cycle, school districts anxiously await the proposed Foundation Allowance figures for each school district. And each election cycle, voters are treated to millage proposals that would increase funding for education by increasing our property taxes. Over the past seven years, the state of Michigan has increased K-12 funding by $1.9 billion. That represents a 2.5 percent annual increase against a 1.1 percentage rate of inflation over that same period.
Despite these increases, the calls for more money for education escalate year after year. These cries must be balanced with the calls from others who are struggling to cope with the continual escalation of their taxes. What if there was a way to put more money toward education without raising taxes? There is a way.
The secret? It turns out that it is not much of a secret after all. All it takes is refocusing education upon the best interests of students. It starts with setting up student-specific savings accounts. A student-specific savings account creates opportunities for supplemental contributions that will be made on behalf of a specific student, whereas our current school funding approach doesn’t allow for this and relies exclusively on generic student headcounts and collective school-district-specific allocations.
There are many ways that new tax deferred savings accounts could be used to augment education funding. One example would be to look at what is occurring at some private schools. Students at private schools, much like students at public universities and community colleges, have unique, student-specific accounts. These accounts open the door to work-study programs. Employers will supplement the education funding for a student participating in this program with as much as $7,000 per year in exchange for five days per month of work in a professional environment. Students in high school get valuable work experience while employers are able to groom new, qualified talent to fill job openings in Michigan’s growing economy. This is a win-win-win scenario where students, schools, and employers all benefit. Wouldn’t it be nice to open the door to these opportunities at public schools?
How did the public education bureaucracy respond to an opportunity for supplemental funding for public schools? During the Senate Education Committee, a representative from the American Federation of Teachers Michigan testified in opposition to legislation (Senate Bills 544-549) that would allow for new student-specific savings accounts via the Enhanced Michigan Education Savings Program (E-MESP).
Why did they oppose the legislation? You may find their reasons quite surprising. One of their objections was that the supplemental funds would be controlled by parents rather than what they termed “public direction.” They also objected to cost transparency or, as they referred to it, “putting a price tag on individual services.” Guess what else they objected to? Additional funding. Technically, they did not object to all additional funding — they only objected to additional funding from private sources as opposed to tax increases. These objections make it clear that there are many in the public education bureaucracy who are more concerned with control than finding ways to find more money for education.
There is a proven way to put more money toward education without increasing the tax burden of our citizens. Shouldn’t we pursue such opportunities before pushing for millage increases and other tax increases?
Sen. Patrick Colbeck represents the 7th Senate District, which encompasses the cities of Livonia, Northville, Plymouth and Wayne, as well as the townships of Canton, Northville and Plymouth.