By Sen. Patrick Colbeck
7th Senate District
How would you like to increase education spending by over $3,000 per pupil without raising taxes? It is possible. In fact, all of the building blocks needed to make it happen are already in use within innovative schools within our state. All that remains is to offer this revenue opportunity as the norm not the exception.
Where does the money come from if it is not from taxes? Businesses. No we are not talking about shaking down businesses for higher fees or taxes. In a free market, a customer is willing to give up their hard-earned money in exchange for something they find of equal value.
So, what are businesses looking for that could help raise $3,000 per pupil? Good employees and good information.
Regarding good employees, businesses are eager to fill job openings in Michigan’s growing economy. Many are already willing to invest $7,000 per year per pupil in student-specific accounts called Education Savings Accounts (ESA) for 9th thru 12th grade students who are willing to work part-time during school year for as few as 5 days a month. Businesses get much needed help. Students get much needed work experience – work experience that can help bring valuable focus to their future studies and sharpen their resumes for future jobs.
Regarding good information, many businesses are already willing to provide monetary incentives in exchange for information in the form of awards programs. In fact, most of us participate in multiple award programs. Unlike what happens under Common Core, the information collected is not specific to the student but rather it is specific to the consumer voluntarily participating in the award. There are award program aggregator businesses that are able to monetize and collect awards from multiple programs and even multiple individuals. Families can direct these monetized awards to their child’s account. Organizations can direct these awards to groups of students for distribution. It is estimated that over $1,000 per pupil per year could be directed to student-specific savings accounts for students of any grade level.
When I applied these figures to the student profile for Detroit Public Schools, these funding sources work out to an additional $3,086 per pupil per year.
What could parents spend this money on? If we limit the funding of these student accounts to third party funding sources, parents could spend this money on education-related services provided by public schools (traditional and charter), parochial schools, special education services, extracurricular activities, tutoring services, or higher education.
If we were to provide parents with additional control over how this money is spent, we could seed each student account with the state portion of the foundation allowance (roughly $6,000). If this were to happen, the choices for parents would be effectively limited to public schools. Michigan’s so-called Blaine Amendment (MI Constitution Article VIII, Section 2) effectively blocks the use of public funds for core education services delivered by non-public organizations.
Additional ways to increase parental control over the specific educational needs of their child would be to allocate federal At Risk and Special Education dollars directly to the accounts for students which qualify for these designations. These funds could be used to pay for school lunch programs or special education programs.
Why is parental control so important? Accountability. Many lament what is seen as a lack of accountability for the performance of many of our schools. State governments typically respond to such laments with transparency mandates that increase the administrative burden on schools which in turn diminishes the funding available for teachers in the classroom. We can do better. An important Total Quality Management principle is that “the customer defines what quality is”. Parents and students are the customers for education.
In summary, Education Savings Accounts provide us with a rare opportunity to solve a government problem in a manner that benefits everyone’s best interest. Educators receive over $3,000 more per pupil. Businesses are able to develop good employees. Taxpayers receive improved accountability for their tax dollars. Parents and students are able to customize their education to best suit their needs and interests. ESA’s even provide a way to offset the rising costs of higher education. Open minds and innovation can yield some pretty awesome results!
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.