Education reform was on the mind of Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell on Monday. Driskell, a Democratic , held a press conference at the urging Gov. Snyder to restore nearly $1 billion in school aid funding to local schools.
"The priorities of Lansing Republicans are out of step with our families in Michigan," Driskell, a mother of three, said. "We need the politicians in Lansing to listen to the people and recognize that a higher-quality education system is essential to our children's future and our state's economic recovery."
The Legislature has set a target date of June 1 to send a budget to Gov. Snyder, and Driskell said both the House and Senate versions strip money from the state's School Aid Fund. According to Driskell, if money were not diverted from the fund during the 2011-2012 school year, per pupil funding would have increased by $650.
"At a time when we need to be putting more resources into our classrooms, Lansing Republicans are taking resources away from our kids," she said. "The past year we've seen school district after school district close schools, lay off teachers and squeeze more students into each classroom.
"I'm very concerned about the lack of investment in our schools."
Democrats across Southeast Michigan echoed Driskell's concerns during a press conference in Southgate on Monday morning.
State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, who is minority vice chairwoman with appropriations subcommittees on school aid and community colleges, said Republicans voted against multiple amendments that Democrats offered to restore school funding.
"I think that it's an understatement to say that ... parents all across the state are really in a state of outrage over what has happened over the past two years," she said.
The Republican-proposed budget puts Michigan's education funding below 2006 levels, State Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, said. Even though financial incentives are proposed for districts that meet certain "best practices" bench marks, those dollars also come out of state funding that is meant for all K-12 schools, she added.
According to Cogen Lipton, Republican lawmakers have said they created the list of best practices themselves, and Brown pointed out the benchmarks have more to do with budget and school management.
"You really don't see students in the list of best practices," she said.
State Rep. Rudy Hobbs, D-Lathrup Village, pointed to the fightschoolcuts.com website as a place where citizens can go to get information about school funding and how to get involved. The interactive website offers a search feature that shows how much funding individual school districts stand to lose, based on House Fiscal Agency estimates, under the proposed Republican budget. According to the website, Dexter Community Schools could lose up to $1 million in funding, and Saline Area Schools will lose $1.4 million.
Dexter parent Jim Carty said the ongoing cuts to local school districts is unacceptable.
"It's very clear that (Gov. Snyder's) administration, as well as the Republican House and Senate, have very strong priorities, but education is not among those priorities," Carty said. "I've watched during the last three or four years the conversations involving Dexter Schools' budget cuts — cutting programs, cutting teachers, cutting extracurricular activities — and now, as the economy has started to come back and we have some more revenue, I hear conversation at the state level of cutting business taxes, but not restoring money to schools. That speaks very loudly to priorities that are not about education.
"As a parent, I think it's very obvious that the schools have paid a high price for Michigan's recession."
Lawmakers said the omnibus education budget is currently in conference committee, so citizens still have time to contact their lawmakers about it.