Disheartening. Hypocritical. Blatantly unfair. These are just a few words that angry parents have applied to the state’s decisions regarding education budget cuts. The Michigan Legislature cut $165 per pupil, and Gov. Jennifer Granholm cut an additional $127 per pupil.
Many parents and students felt that this decision signified the devaluation of education in the eyes of government officials.
According to an upset and worried parent who wrote a letter published in the Lansing State Journal, the question is no longer about how many programs his childrens’ school will lose, but which legislator will listen. “My kids attend one of the elementary schools that will be closed if the proposal is implemented…As parents, we must unite in one voice to demand school funding reform from our Legislature – and we will over the next few months,” said the letter’s writer, Mollie Woods.
Lansing school officials are particularly concerned that these budget cuts will affect the bus inspection program, compromising bus safety and increasing both the insurance liability and premiums for districts using vehicles that have not undergone any inspection.
This bus inspection cut was breifly applied to Lansing public schools, but the funding was promptly reinstated. “I suppose there are more important things to fund, considering bus drivers do have responsibility over their vehicle and its passengers,” said MSU education junior Erin Margolis. Margolis toutors in a Lansing classroom as part of her TE250 class’s service learning project.
However, paying attention to the track record of crime levels within schools and budgeting inspections accordingly is one route to contemplate, she added. Margolis said letting students know inspections had been cut could lead to more vandalism and crimes.
As for cutting after school, child development and special education programs, and how this would affect the classroom, Margolis said “It disadvantages the students ability to learn and the teachers ability to teach.” She also tried to empathize with the legislators making decisions about what to cut, and went further to say parents who accuse them of caring little for their child’s education are essentially slapping them in the face. They’re under considerable pressure, difficult to fathom for someone who is not faced with such crucial decisions.
It may be unfair to assume that education means little to legislators, said Michigan Education Association director of communications Doug Pratt. There are other factors involved. “The funding system is broken and the legislators are trying to update the tax system so it can deal with a 21st century economy,” said Pratt.
Executive Director of Communications in Government Relations for Lansing school district Steve Serkaian echoed Pratt’s thoughts. “Every public school is in the same boat. The bottom line is there is not enough revenue to go around. There has to be a fundamental look by the state – at its tax policy and in particular on how it’s schools are funded,” Serkaian said. He said that parents should attempt to recognize the struggle state legislators face each day when it comes to making decisions about what remains in or is cut from the budget.
One way educators have attempted to combat funding cutbacks is through a concept known as ‘Reduction in Force,’ or RIF. RIFs could be used as a type of temporary relief for schools suffering economically through staff layoffs.
However, many debate whether RIFs truly alleviate schools’ budget cut woes. “The RIF program has brought about the layoffs of 5,000 to 6,000 teachers across the state. This increases class sizes while decreasing the number of teachers,” said Pratt.
Some argue classrooms housing too many students for one teacher to handle will inhibit the teacher from educating as effectively as he or she did when contending with smaller class sizes, and this means a less structured atmosphere as well as a downgraded educational experience.
As of yet, the Lansing school district had not decided to use any type of RIF system. “The budget will be decreased, but no formal plan regarding RIFs has been presented to the board,” Serkaian said.
Perhaps it is accurate to say that the decisions legislators make when cutting education programs are sometimes devastating, but when considered from all sides, a major step towards alleviating some stress is to stop pointing fingers and identify with each others struggles and viewpoints in order to respect the common goal.