The K-16 Coalition, a lobbyist group for education, will begin petitioning for signatures in support of their proposal that asks for yearly state funding increases for education from kindergarten through the undergraduate years of college in Michigan.
The proposed funding is expected to cost the state between $50 and $100 million. The funding would either rise with the rate of inflation, or increase by 5 percent annually, depending on which method is cheaper for the state.
Tom White, director of the K-16 Coalition, explained that tax cuts in 1990 made it impossible for the state to live up to the promises it made when voters approved Proposal A to change local school funding from a property-tax based system to one drawn out of the state’s School Aid Fund.
“We don’t think it’s kept the promise, and it certainly hasn’t kept pace with our expenses.” White said. He added that schools have suffered $450 million in cuts over the last three years.
But schools are not the only state-funded institutions that have come upon hard times.
The state’s General Fund, which finances not only higher education but health care and emergency services as well, will be tapped if the proposal is passed.
Rich Studley, senior vice president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and one of the most outspoken voices against mandatory K-16 funding increases, said the signature petition is likely to see spirited opposition.
Studley said the state is already dedicating about a quarter of its total resources to education, and that using a petition would bypass the Legislature, which traditionally dictates which state institution needs the most funds.
“It’s a selfish and one-sided proposal, other than that we think it’s a good idea.” Studley said.
Frequent criticism of the proposal focuses on the absence of a guarantee that the quality of education will increase as funding increases, as well as no guidelines about how the money will be spent.
Some say that a model should be implemented that rewards academic progress, but Rep. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Wayne) who has sponsored previous education bills said mandatory K-16 increases are risky.
Hopgood said that there is uncertainty about the accuracy of tests that measure academic caliber.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University is hopeful that the K-16 proposal would be a solution to rising tuition rates, believing that because the state needs a predictable and robust model for funding if it wants to sustain quality higher education.
The K-16 coalition is composed of 26 different organizations, one of which is the President’s Council of State Universities of Michigan, of which University President Mary Sue Coleman is a member. Mike Boulus, head of the President’s Council, said that the council had been involved in the original drafting of the petition.
“You can’t succeed without higher education … (we have to) take our future into our own hands.” Boulus said.
Boulus said the proposal may result in higher taxes.
The petitions themselves were not delivered on time, according to Ken MacGregor, spokesperson for the K-16 Coalition. They should have come in earlier but will now arrive on Monday, he said. MacGregor added that he received hundreds of e-mails asking where they were and how people could get them.