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Help the schools win the lottery: Vote today

An empty classroom
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
O.k., o.k., we know this one is empty, but some high school students in the Detroit Public Schools say their classroom are far from empty.

Mark Krinock, a neurosurgeon from Kalamazoo, asked me something via email yesterday that I’ve heard people asking for many years. “I am curious how the state of education can be in such dire straits when the lottery has contributed over $7 billion over the last ten years to the education system.” Dr. Krinock is a big supporter of public education, and is puzzled by this.

Why hasn’t the lottery taken care of education?

That’s a very good question. By the way, a lot of people think the legislature cynically diverted the money they used to spend on education and replaced it with lottery money.

That’s not, however, true. The lottery money does get to the schools, and the lottery indeed raises hundreds of millions for Michigan public schools every year.

But education costs billions. Last year, the lottery raised a record $924 million dollars for education. But the state’s total school aid fund was a little less than $13 billion dollars.

That means lottery revenue amounted to a little less than 7.5 percent of the total. Lottery revenue is nice, but makes up just a tiny amount of what it costs to educate students.

Whether we have an ideal system for funding education is another question. But since Proposal A was passed in 1994, schools have gotten an annual per-pupil grant from the state that is supposed to fund the bulk of education costs.

However, it doesn’t cover everything, and though school districts are now limited in the amount of supplemental funding they can appropriate through property tax millages, they still need to raise some funds that way. They also can still ask their citizens to approve bond proposals for projects like constructing and renovating school buildings.

Today, 35 school districts across Michigan will be doing just that, and dozens more will be seeking to renew, or in a few cases increase, millages that help keep schools operating.

In Dr. Krinock’s own Kalamazoo, for example, the schools are asking voters to approve an almost $97 million dollar bond proposal for school construction and technology upgrades.

Not far away, Jackson public schools are asking for almost $87 million, and smaller but still significant amounts are being sought by school systems from Cadillac to Charlevoix.

Not every school district in Michigan has something on the ballot today. These school funding elections get little publicity, and even fewer of us than usual will vote today.

I don’t remember offhand who the legislators from Jackson are.

But I’d bet the bond issue to renovate aging school buildings is far more important to Jackson’s future than who the voters send to Lansing this fall.

Dr. Krinock, the surgeon whose question started this discussion, is a big supporter of the Kalamazoo Promise, which enables students to get a college education.

He told me “the advantages of the Kalamazoo Promise become difficult to realize when getting there is difficult.” Getting an education and having a chance to succeed is a lot harder in dilapidated buildings that lack modern technology.

Politicians sometimes ask us to “vote like your whole future depended on it.” In many of these school elections today, it probably does.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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