Blanchard, G.O.P. Offer Competing State-Aid Plans
In speeches last week, Gov. James J. Blanchard and Senator John Engler both exhorted listeners to back their plans to provide more equity in state aid to schools and to improve the quality of instruction. The two political leaders are expected to vie for the governorship in 1990.
Mr. Blanchard used his State of the State Address to make the case again for his proposal to raise the sales tax from 4 cents to 5 cents, and reduce property taxes by 25 percent for homeowners and 10 percent for businesses. An identical plan was rejected by lawmakers in December.
"I urge members of this Legislature to support this proposal," he said. In a separate annual report released last week, Mr. Blanchard called on the state's education and business communities "to put the interests of our children first and to work to support our proposal. It is good for schools, good for taxpayers, and good for Michigan."
In his speech, Mr. Blanchard reiterated the position he took last year that lawmakers should take steps to improve the quality of schools before tackling the more sensitive issue of school finance.
"Money is important, but change is more important," he said.
In the Republican response to Mr. Blanchard's speech, Senator Engler said increases in spending for welfare and prisons and decreases in spending for education represent "a dark storm cloud on our state's horizon."
"Crime and welfare are robbing millions, maybe billions of tax dollars away from your kids' education," he said. "This drain on the budget is a cancer. But it's a cancer that can be cured. ... The voters must step in and say 'Stop!"'
Mr. Engler asked voters to support a petition drive that he and other Senate Republicans will launch in coming weeks. The proposed constitutional amendment would raise the state school-aid fund's share of general-fund revenues from the current level of about 7 percent to 15 percent in fiscal 1995.
"The only way we're going to achieve something so huge ... is to go around the Governor's office, even go around the Legislature, and go directly to you, the people," Senator Engler said. "I urge you to watch and listen to the accounts of this proposal and jump on board. Our schools need a full frontal assault. Help lead the charge."
Governor Blanchard outlined a bevy of new programs in education and related fields in his annual address to lawmakers. He was expected to flesh out those proposals in his fiscal 1990 budget, which was scheduled for release late last week.
Topics addressed in the Governor's speech and annual report include:
Restructuring. Mr. Blanchard called for the creation this year of a limited number of "Schools of Tomorrow," which would be freed from compliance with various state rules to encourage innovation. He said2p4this plan should be coupled with greater parental choice within school districts and the establishment of networks of teachers to exchange reform ideas. The Governor also urged the Bush Administration to relax federal regulations for schools selected for the program.
School quality. Mr. Blanchard recommended new financial rewards for schools demonstrating test-score gains and higher attendance rates among at-risk students, and increased rewards for those that adopt a state-recommended core curriculum. He also proposed phasing in an outcome-based school-accreditation system beginning with elementary schools, and requiring annual school "report cards."
Mr. Blanchard did not call for mandatory class-size reductions in kindergarten through the 3rd grade in either his speech or his annual report. A similar proposal failed to gain legislative approval last year.
However, the Governor said he would seek $50 million in the upcoming fiscal year to place a computer in every public-school classroom, and $3.2 million to train school workers "to recognize students with drug problems and get them help before it is too late."
Early childhood. Mr. Blanchard recommended increasing spending for a preschool program for at-risk 4-year-olds from $17 million to $40 million. He said his goal was to provide such services to all eligible children within four years.
The Governor also recommended the creation of "family care accounts," which would allow state and small-business employees to have up to $5,000 in pre-tax income withheld to cover their yearly child-care costs. The accounts are intended to offset a reduction in federal child-care tax benefits for some moderate-income working couples that was caused by last year's revision of the federal welfare law.
In addition, Mr. Blanchard said he would convene a panel of experts from industry, academe, child development, and government "to develop a public-private agenda for working parents by the end of this year." He also said he would seek to establish a pilot early-childhood service center similar to Chicago's Beethoven Project.
Welfare reform. The Governor proposed ending general assistance to some 22,000 "able-bodied men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 without child-rearing responsibilities" and requiring them to enroll in a new "Job Start" program.
Under the plan, participants would could either complete their high-school education; undertake an intensive 90-day job search; obtain vocational training; or take a public-service job.
Youth service. Mr. Blanchard proposed the creation of a new Michigan Citizens Corps, which would allow students to obtain academic credit for work with community-service organizations.