Published Online: November 11, 2009

Students, Others Rally for Michigan School Funding

School advocates and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm are keeping the pressure on Michigan lawmakers to raise more money for education.

Hundreds of students, parents and school officials rallied Tuesday at the state Capitol to take their message directly to lawmakers. Students called on the Legislature to avoid budget cuts that could trim school programs across the state.

"We want to show them it's hurting us more than they think it is," said Zane Thomas, 17, a student at Thurston High School in Redford near Detroit. "I don't think they understand how deep these cuts really are."

Thomas said he is worried about potential cuts to drama, choir, band and freshmen athletics programs.

Students from Grand Ledge said they are worried about possible cuts to transportation, an alternative high school and elementary schools.

"What's happening is not fair to anybody," said Alexis Miller, 15, a high school student in the district located west of Lansing.

Granholm visited Mason, about 15 miles south of Lansing, on Tuesday for another of her roundtable discussions with educators about school funding cuts. Granholm called on the Senate to immediately act to avoid cuts that she recently ordered because of falling tax revenues — the fallout of Michigan's lingering economic troubles.

The governor said lawmakers could avoid the cuts by eliminating a scheduled inflationary increase in the state income tax personal exemption or scaling back some exemptions on taxes affecting oil, gas and tobacco companies.

"I certainly don't want to cut public education," Granholm told reporters after speaking to Ingham County educators. "If I had my druthers, I certainly wouldn't be raising revenue either. But here we are in a situation where Michigan is facing the biggest, historic economic transformation that it has ever experienced. The biggest crisis in manufacturing. So we don't have enough money in the bank."

Republicans counter that Granholm is making unnecessary cuts to try and force them into approving a tax increase.

School funding will be cut by $127 per student in December — a total of about $212 million — unless state lawmakers agree this month to raise taxes or set aside more revenue for education. The cut would come on top of a budget bill signed into law last month that slashes school funding by the equivalent of $165 per student.

Schools that got last year's minimum of $7,316 per student face combined cuts of $292 per student, or about 4 percent.

Thirty-nine of the state's better-funded districts face an additional $52 million in cuts starting with payments later this month. Those districts — some of which now get more than $11,000 per student — could face combined cuts of more than $600 per student from last year's levels.

The Democrat-led House last week passed a bill that would use more federal stimulus money to reduce the amount of the cuts. The proposal, which would speed up the use of $184 million in stimulus money that is supposed to be saved for next year, has run into opposition in the Republican-led Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop said the proposal would create a "gigantic" hole in the next state budget. The Senate has made proposals to restore some school funding in exchange for some business tax changes, but Democrats don't like their ideas.

"We cannot in this state continue to use our MasterCard to pay our Visa," Bishop said. "We've had a 30 percent reduction in state revenues in the past year alone in the state general fund. We cannot afford the budget that we have. We cannot afford the government that we have."

Bishop called on Granholm to rescind her recently ordered school budget cuts.

Associated Press Writer Tim Martin wrote this report and Associated Press Writer David Eggert contributed to this report.

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