Rep. Jim Townsend's House Floor Speech on the 2014 School Omnibus Budget

Thursday, June 12, 2014

“Mr. Speaker, I voted no on the conference report for HB 5314, legislation to provide appropriations for public education. I voted no on this conference report for the following reasons:

“This bill continues the practice of raiding the School Aid Fund to the tune of over $400 million. Raiding the School Aid Fund is a betrayal of the voters’ intent when we approved Proposal A in 1994 to create a statewide system for funding K-12 public education. We must end this shameful habit of robbing the School Aid Fund to make up for irresponsible tax giveaways that drain the General Fund of vitally important resources.

“The majority is crowing about paltry funding increases in this bill, but the reality is that these gains are minimal in comparison to the record-setting cuts the majority imposed a few years ago, and they do not meaningfully offset the decade-long trend in real cuts to school funding in this state.

“The modest increase in funding provided to school districts is concentrated among charter schools and cyber schools. There is no good reason for favoring such schools considering that charter schools generally do not out-perform community public schools and are not subject to the same standards of accountability under which traditional public schools operate. With respect to cyber schools, it is unconscionable that we would give the largest funding increases to “schools” that don’t provide the services, or incur the costs, associated with virtually every community public school in Michigan.

“The special support being provided to charter schools is all the more disturbing given that 80 percent of charter schools in Michigan are for-profit entities - the highest percentage in the nation. Why would this Legislature take precious school aid funds to pad the profits of charter school operators who refuse to reveal how much of their revenue is devoted to the classroom?

“Mr. Speaker, the legislation does provide a 6 percent increase in funding for higher education, but this increase is insufficient to offset the years of disinvestment in our colleges and universities. Even with this funding, the amount Michigan will spend on higher ed will remain $500 million below the levels of support we provided a decade ago.

“Members of the majority disingenuously cite the fact that Michigan spends billions on public education. Mr. Speaker, we also spend billions on roads, but it’s painfully obvious that our road system is underfunded. So too is our public elementary and secondary education system and higher education system.

“Because the state of Michigan has conducted an in-depth analysis of our road system, we have a pretty clear idea of the cost of preserving and maintaining our roads in good condition. Ironically, the majority refused to include in this bill funding for a comprehensive study of the true cost of providing public education to all children in Michigan. Mr. Speaker, without such an analysis, how can members of the House and Senate and the governor know that we are spending the proper amount to ensure our kids receive the world-class education they deserve and our economy demands?

“Finally, the majority often cites their spending on health and retirement costs in the school system as evidence of their commitment to adequately funding our schools. But these funds never make it to the classroom, and the problem they are designed to remedy has been caused by the majority’s misguided obsession with privatizing school services and funding charter schools. While privatization makes sense in some instances, it is well-known that shifting the public school workforce from public to private workers undermines the viability of the health and retirement system on which school employees rely.

“Similarly, the majority has chosen to exempt charter school employees from contributing to the state school health and retirement system, shifting money out of that system and further undermining it. The losers in this whole scheme are our students and schools. Mr. Speaker, we would never credit an arsonist for contributing to the firefighter’s benevolent fund. We should not equate the majority’s spending to buttress the school employee health and retirement system that it is working to destroy with a commitment to supporting our public schools.

“For all of these reasons, I voted against the 2014 omnibus school funding bill.”