This week on WestSouthwest we speak with Kalamazoo Public School Superintendent Michael Rice. Joining us is Kalamazoo Gazette education reporter Julie Mack.
State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) says the Michigan's funding of K-12 education is rising. But a recent study suggests that, after adjusting for inflation, it is actually lower than it was before the 2008 recession. Rice agrees. He says in 2005, Michigan was $224 above the national average in per-pupil sepending. But by 2010 he says the state was $1,124 under the national average. Rice says that means Michigan fell from 19th to 31st place among the states in terms of K-12 state funding, moving closer to Mississippi and away from states like Massachusetts. Unlike the case in some states, Rice says school districts in Michigan rely on state money to cover 80 to 90 percent of their budgets. Rice says Michigan has engaged in what he calls "systemic disinvestment" in primary and secondary public education.
Rice says all of the increased funding approved in recent years has been more than eaten up by soaring pension and health care costs for retired school employees. He says at least part of the blame fore those escalating costs lies at the door of the state legislature. He faults lawmakers for offering an early retirement incentive that added the school pension rolls while at the same time allowing some schools, including a growing number of charter schools, to opt out of the state MPSERS retirement system.
Rice says KPS has had to cut its budget by $12.4 million over the last five years even though it has been the fastest-growing district in Michigan for the last seven years. The 24 percent growth in the student body is a direct result of the privately-funded Kalamazoo Promise college scholarship program. Rice says the cuts mean larger class sizes, fewer academic offerings, and lower pay for teachers.
During the program Rice also talks about several other issues, including recent changes in the way KPS assesses the academic progress of its students.