Students turned out in droves for the 2008 presidential election. But this year, when something locally urgent was at stake, less than five percent voted. In some precincts like the Michigan Union and Mary Markley Residence Hall, less than one percent voted, according to the Michigan Daily (County voters reject school millage, 11/04/2009). The issue of funding for Washtenaw County schools inundated the news in recent weeks and campaign signs speckled front yards, but students were as cognizant of this vote as they are of traffic when blindly crossing the streets.
Proposal 1 would have provided Washtenaw County schools with an additional $30 million. It’s not just college kids taking the hit, but children as young as five years old. Last week, Gov. Jennifer Granholm — once a champion for education — cut an additional $51.7 million from school districts, mainly in Southeast Michigan. Michigan has made massive budget cuts for K-12 and higher education and holds the dubious distinction of being one of five states to spend more on incarceration than higher education. The Michigan Promise scholarship is no longer a promise.
Proposal 1 was put on the ballot to maintain critical funding for arts, athletics, Advanced Placement courses, teacher salaries and other extracurricular programs that contribute to quality education. Critics of the proposal complained that Ann Arbor would subsidize other districts by paying $15 million and receiving only $11 million in return, according to a formula mandated by state law. Opponents also argued that districts should be thriftier and spend within their means. Supporters responded that Ann Arbor Public Schools cut $19 million in the last four years, and that we shouldn’t punish our children for Michigan’s economic woes and financial mistakes made by adults.
And the cost to homeowners? A mill is a 0.1 percent tax on taxable property value (50 percent of the most recent assessment). If a family paid $200,000 for a house, and the taxable value is $100,000, a one mill tax amounts to $100 per year. Proposal 1 sought to raise a 2 mill tax, which would have been $200 per year from that middle-income family.
I don’t want to belittle the amount, but many families spend that much or more on game day festivities. They could probably “sacrifice” a single Saturday to enjoy the game with friends from their living room or a tailgate knowing their children will receive a quality education and have a chance to succeed.
It seems like an issue students would rally behind. Students, many of whom depend on government support for a college education, could have made the difference for a county-wide proposal that lost by 8,000 votes. By voting yes, students would have been supporting education and their landlords would pay the bill. And that wasn’t worth stumbling into a voting booth for?