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Michigan Democrats Rally for Education as Students Head Back to School

Rep. Jeff Irwin and Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell urge Republicans in Lansing to restore education funding to schools across the state.

CHELSEA — As hundreds of students returned to school for the start of a new year on Tuesday, Democrats across western Washtenaw County were joined by a crowd of eight supporters calling on Republicans to restore funding to the state's public schools.

Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell, , was joined by state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and , candidate for Michigan's 55th District during a rally outside of Beach Middle School in Chelsea.

"As children around the state start a new school year, they deserve to get the best education possible," Driskell said.

Driskell said as a mother, she is frustrated that the House has cut school funding by more than $1 billion since 2011.

"These deep cuts have resulted in school closings, massive teacher layoffs, cuts to transportation services, and a lack of basic school supplies, such as textbooks," she said.

Zemke said he believes education reform is vital to Michigan's economic development.

"If we're serious about Michigan's economic future and solving the problems we've got, then we need to make investing in education a priority," Zemke said.

The automotive engineer said if elected, he would work to restore the nearly $4 million in cuts to schools in the 55th District. Zemke said by 2014 Ann Arbor Schools will face a staggering deficit of $20 million, while Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan will both experience a 15 percent budget cut due to legislation passed earlier this year.

"Because of reduced funding to our schools, we will see larger class sizes, less individual attention to students, and more pay-to-play programs, making a balance to education less and less likely."

Zemke said he would like to see elected officials invest more in schools that offer programs to expose children to math and science, such as workshops offered by the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Coalition.

"This is something that touches my heart. The programs are project based and statistics have shown they are effective at exciting children about mathematics and science," he said.

Sandy Inman, a retired teacher from Chelsea School District, said the growing class sizes continues to be a problem for educators.

"I can remember a time when we never went over 24 (students)," she said. "Bigger class sizes mean you don't have the time to spend with individual students to give them the best educational experience they need."

She said the cuts also force teachers to purchase their own classroom supplies using their own money.

"I don't think (funding education) is a party issue. What bothers me is the people making decisions haven't set foot in a school or investigated the effects of the cuts. If our leaders took the time to visit the classrooms, they would see what is going on."

Rep. Irwin said House Democrats have been trying to pass legislation to increase funding to under-performing schools (House Bill 4987) as well as require schools managed by for-profit companies to release student achievement data (House Bill 5098).

"Republicans have not allowed for any serious discussion of the proposals and instead have opted to cut school funding at every opportunity," he said. "Budgets are a reflection of your values and priorities as a community. I ask the residents of Chelsea, Dexter, Saline and Manchester, what priority do you put on schools? Does your representative match that priority? Because I don't see that."

Irwin said while the Legislature did restore some funding to schools this year, it didn't go far enough.

Rep. Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Township, told Ann Arbor.com he stands by the Legislature's funding cuts in order to help balance the state's budget.

"We were left with a $1.5 billion deficit from (former governor) Jennifer Granholm and all departments were cut," he said. "You always want to do more with public education, but we had an obligation to actually balance the budget."

Daniel Lai September 06, 2012 at 03:13 AM
ScoobyDoo, Patch is not owned by MSNBC or CNN.
Barbara Read September 06, 2012 at 03:34 AM
My understanding is that the union contracts limit class size, and if the school has to go over, then they must negotiate with the unions for leeway. If the number exceeds the contract before school starts then a new classroom must be added. If it's after school starts, then the district can squeeze the extra children into existing classes. The school could choose to spend more and decrease class size, but they can't choose to go over the limits set by the union agreement.
MSU September 06, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Once again Scoobydoo your wrong! The union put a limit on the class sizes. The school district is the one who just keeps shoving more kids in the classes. For example the Union put a MAX class size of 32 students per class at the high school. Tell me why the school distric is putting 42 in them. Wait don't tell me because you have no idea what your talking about just dumping your hate for unions on everybody.
justlovemichigan September 06, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Sorry, SD, wrong again. I am a retired teacher who once taught 42 in a Michigan h.s. classroom and went through lengthy negotiations to get class size limited to 32. These days, I just read widely, often on the issue I care most about: education, and our current state political majority's blatant attempts to get all that lovely money for their own use. That's why they raided pensions and the School Aid Fund. Having been there, I know no one who cares about kids who would stuff that many into a classroom. There are lots of ways to balance a budget. Hurting education is one. Unnecessarily pitting education against businesses is another. True reform occurs when the involved parties come together to solve problems, such as has happened under Driskell's leadership.
Mary Marshall September 06, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Starting salary + 7.65% for FICA + 24.46% for state mandated retirement + insurance is closer to $60-65,000. Dexter's budget was based on the governor's original recommended retirement rate increase, less the recommended off set, which is about equal to the reduced rate, so the budget is pretty close to the final deal reached.

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