While University students fear an increase in tuition following Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal, many primary and secondary schools in the state may also have reason to worry.

Washtenaw County residents discussed how Snyder’s proposed budget cuts could potentially impact the community and local school districts in a town hall meeting last night titled “What does Governor Snyder’s budget mean to you?” The meeting featured State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) and a panel of speakers at Washtenaw Community College.

Warren said in an interview after the meeting that she organized the gathering to help residents of the county better understand how the governor’s budget proposal will affect them, adding that she is particularly concerned about the future of public education in Michigan.

“I kept hearing from a lot of citizens around the county that there was a lack of information,” Warren said. “They were very curious about the details of the budget and wanted an opportunity to learn more about what was really in it.”

Since Snyder’s budget proposal includes cutting higher education funding by 15 percent, Howard Bunsis, a professor at Eastern Michigan University and chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Collective Bargaining Congress, discussed how the cuts could impact the nearly 259,000 students attending Michigan’s 15 public institutions.

“Very simply, what this is going to mean is a significant increase in tuition,” Bunsis said.

The University of Michigan currently has the fourth-highest undergraduate tuition rate in the country for in-state students, according to Bunsis. In-state students paying lower-division, full-time LSA tuition owe the University $5,824 each full semester as per the 2010-2011 academic year rates. If the University increases in-state tuition by more than 7.1 percent, the institution is subject to 20-percent funding cut under Snyder’s proposal.

To put the budget in prospective, Bunsis proceeded to tell attendees that state prisons will receive $1.9 million in funding from Lansing, while only $1.2 million of the state budget will go to higher education.

Warren said Universities aren’t the only institutions that will suffer from the state’s appropriation reductions. Local public school systems are also looking at significant budget shortfalls. Ann Arbor Public Schools are anticipating a minimum estimated budget cut of $6.9 million, Warren said.

Dedrick Martin, superintendent of Ypsilanti Public Schools, spoke on the panel and estimated that Ypsilanti Public Schools will see a 23-percent budget reduction, which totals nearly $11.5 million in a 24-month time span. The minimum amount of cuts is estimated around $1.8 million, according to a pamphlet distributed at the event.

The funding decreases would force schools to increase classroom sizes and reduce funding to athletic and fine arts programs and after school activities, Martin said. He added that this would be devastating for students who turn to extracurricular activities as a source of stability amid difficult family situations.

“I see lots of kids who during the start of the day, it would appear … that they don’t want to be involved in the school system,” Martin said. “But at the end of the day, it is hard to get these kids to leave the building because they don’t have a stable environment to go to.”

Despite these proposed cuts, Warren said during the meeting that she remains dedicated to maintaining a high standard for public education in Michigan and preventing vast tuition increases. She added that it is important the state “doesn’t price out any of our high-achieving students.”

“One of the things that I am the most passionate about is education, and particularly our public education, because I still firmly believe that public education is the great equalizer in a society,” Warren said.

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