Late this week, in the last voting session of 2015, the Senate sent Senate Bill 571 to Governor Snyder for his signature. Buried within the 53 page finance bill is a measure that will make it much more difficult for local schools and school districts to inform voters on proposed millages to support school systems.
According to MASSP, “The House adopted a floor substitute to a campaign finance bill that included this measure and took the legislation from 12 pages long to 53 pages at the end of a nearly 12-hour session.” The provision would bar local districts, schools, and ISDs from distributing factual and unbiased information for 60 days prior to an election. This includes mass mailings, TV, or pre-recorded phone messages.
Given the deep cuts to the School Aid Fund and the overall reduction in per pupil funding the last several years, millages are often the only way schools can bridge the gap between what they can financially provide their students and what their students actually need. Millages are one of the most democratic proposals citizens can vote on. Investing in the future of their city’s schools and students ensures that all will receive a quality education in a school that is safe and secure. Students will have access to technology that will support and enhance their instruction, and will be of the same caliber they will encounter in college and their careers. Millages often provide infrastructure support – improvements in lighting, classroom heating, wireless access, updated bathrooms, etc. These are things that have fallen by the wayside as schools have continued to see their budgets shrink due to a variety of factors – one of which is decreased funding from the state legislature.
A democracy thrives when its citizens are able to participate in the electoral process. An informed electorate was one of the key principles of the nation our Founding Fathers valued. They understood the importance of information when it came to choosing laws and policies that would guide our country. For the Republicans in our state to attempt to pass a law that is in no way good for students, for schools, or for the public as a whole, is reprehensible and despicable. Unfortunately, it is par for the course in the last few years. Taking away the ability for districts to be able to distribute factual and unbiased information around a millage means fewer people will be informed, and thus, fewer people will participate in the democratic process by simply choosing not to vote, or voting no because they don’t understand what it is they are voting for.
What’s even more appalling, is earlier this week, Republicans passed Senate Bill 13 that eliminates the ability to vote “straight ticket”. Proposed under the guise of allowing the electorate to be more informed, the Republicans fast-tracked this legislation through the House and Senate, designed to make voting less efficient and less easy. The electorate already voted on this, and over 60% of the population voted to keep straight ticket voting. This time, when the Republicans passed the bill, they attached it to an appropriations bill. Under Michigan’s Constitution, a bill that is attached to an appropriation is ineligible for referendum. So much for democracy in Michigan.
It is my belief that Senate Bill 571 is just another attempt to make it more difficult for public schools to operate in Michigan. Years of reduced funding and cuts to the School Aid Fund. An elimination of caps on charter schools. And now this. Where, pray tell, are schools supposed to get the monies they need to provide a high quality education for the students of Michigan. I am ashamed of the Republicans in our legislature.
I urge voters to contact Governor Snyder and ask him to veto this bill. It serves no clear purpose other than to make it more difficult for schools to offer a high quality education to its students. This bill is not good for schools, it’s certainly not good for students. The people of Michigan deserve better. Our kids deserve better.