I love it here. Over the course of my first month as a freshman at the University, hardly a day has gone by that I haven’t overheard two people debating health care reform over lunch, a group arguing about how to fix the economy or friends discussing the meaning of life. We live in a smart place. And based on my past experience, that’s not something to take for granted. The driving force of our intelligent community is the high caliber of the state’s education system. And for this reason, it’s essential for the future of Michigan’s intellectual and economic prosperity that the state legislature avoid proposed cuts in education.

My high school education took place in two states with two entirely different sets of educational values. I went to North Farmington High School in Farmington Hills, for my freshman year and Palm Harbor University High School in Palm Harbor, Fla. for my final three. Having experienced high school in Michigan and Florida, I gained insight into the impact of their undeniable differences.

While statistics can’t speak for powerful cultural forces at work, they do show a clear difference in the priority education receives in state budgets. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the state of Michigan spent $9,922 per public school student during the 2006-2007 academic year. Florida spent only $8,567. This disparity is one of the reasons for Michigan’s relative strength, but the legislature seems ready to destroy this advantage.

The result of underfunding education is no mystery. As of the 2005-2006 academic year, Michigan graduates 72.2 percent of its students, the NCES finds, and Florida graduates only 63.6 percent. At North Farmington, the notion of “dropping out” was subject to ridicule. For many students at Palm Harbor and across the state, it was considered a legitimate option.

I once had an eye-opening conversation with a Floridian friend who was considering dropping out — an idea that draws more shame in North Farmington than saying, “I love my new foreign car!” in Flint. When asked what he was going to do with his life, my friend responded that he would buy a truck. Buy a truck? Are you going to live in it? How will you make money to buy the truck? What will you do after you buy the truck? None of this mattered because, as he put it, “school’s boring.” This lack of ambition is in part a function of Florida not appropriately prioritizing education.

Meanwhile, Michigan is poised to make drastic cuts in education to close its budget deficit, including the possibility of cutting the Michigan Promise Scholarship. Education, of all things, shouldn’t be on the chopping block when it’s the one hope for the salvation of our economy. Due to the severity of the current recession and the overall drop in revenues, we all understand there will be cuts. But we must fight for every dollar of spending for education and cut elsewhere.

Despite the political rhetoric, it’s simply not possible to pay for everything the state needs with current revenues. In order to position ourselves for a better future and stop this decline, we must accept the shared burden of a tax increase today. If state support for education dwindles, our already struggling economy will face another debilitating challenge — a less educated work force. A tax increase that preserves our work force and smart society, however difficult it may be to stomach, is vital.

Unfortunately, Michigan legislators have has proved to be a bunch of children when it comes to budget issues. Republicans have decided to help by — surprise — digging in their heels and refusing any tax increase as a matter of principle. Democrats, meanwhile, continue to promise everything while paying for nothing. The evolution of politics as a circus act that places partisanship and ideology over the common good is a development citizens do not want. Both parties criticize and neither appears able to change its position. I refuse to be content with sacrificing education for petty, partisan name-calling.

Investing in our future today will give hope to the people of Michigan for a better and more prosperous tomorrow. If we fail to rise to the challenge, then we may have to get used to these “state shutdown” shenanigans. When I heard about the 2007 shutdown after moving to Florida, I laughed at its absurdity. But as a Michigan resident, when I saw coverage of this year’s shutdown last week in the Daily, I simply shook my head in disappointment and asked, “This again?”

Alex Schiff is an LSA freshman.

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