Lessons in Survival
Cobler's dire prediction may prove accurate. Since Proposal A passed twenty years ago, most education funding has come from the state--but for the last ten years, that cash flow has been steadily choked off. As David Arsen, MSU professor of K-12 education administration, writes in an open letter to governor Rick Snyder, "Between 2002 and 2011, real per-pupil funding of Michigan's public schools fell by [a total of] $2,643 or 24.5 percent."
This dismal trend has accelerated under Snyder and the Republican-dominated legislature: In the state's 2012-13 budget, they cut $200 million from K-12 school districts. But while community colleges can put millages on the ballot and universities can raise tuition, school districts can't do either. And while the legislature helped districts lay more of the cost of health care on their employees, it's also doubled their contributions to the state pension fund, to about 25 percent of payroll.
That's not all of the schools' troubles. Beyond rising costs, the recession and Michigan's aging population have hurt enrollment, which means less money from a state that pays on a per-pupil basis. Chelsea has fallen from 3,000 to 2,488 students in the past seven years, while Saline has dropped from 5,500 in 2009 to 5,250 now and is projected to hit 5,000 in a couple of years. Even Dexter, which had held steady for years at about 3,600 students, dipped to 3,543 this year.