It’s not often you see the Senate Democrats arguing for one of Governor Snyder’s proposals on the floor of the Senate, but that’s exactly what happened today as the Senate debated legislation impacting the retirement plans of our public school teachers.
Senate Bill 1040 makes changes to the way Michigan’s retirement system works for public school teachers due to a long-term funding problem that could see the system essentially run out of money. Of course, this funding problem wasn’t actually caused by teachers (it just maybe has something to do with legislators diverting money out of it to plug holes in their budgets over the past 15+ years), but that isn’t stopping Republicans from blaming teachers for it as they make drastic cuts to the retirement plans our teachers have earned over a lifetime of hard work in the classrooms.
Nothing says “thanks for nothing” quite like telling our teachers you’re taking away their retirement check on their way out the door.
While Governor Snyder put forward a similar plan to what was passed today, his plan continued forward with a prefunded retirement system that ensures a certain amount of savings for the system. The legislation passed today, on the other hand, forces all new employees to switch to a “defined contribution” system, a plan that not only forces teachers to pay more to get less for their retirement, but actually will cost the state over $1.4 BILLION to implement while realizing only $300 million in savings.
Let’s do some quick math. $1.4 billion in costs – $300 million in savings = a total savings of negative $1.1 billion.
Yes, the Republicans actually passed a “savings” bill today that will cost the state over a billion dollars. And teachers will still suffer for it. Does this make any sense to you?
This plan didn’t make sense for us either, so our members took to the microphone to encourage Republicans to take another look at the original proposal from Governor Snyder and introduced an amendment that would rewrite the bill to use the Governor’s exact language. It wasn’t an effort to show we supported the Governor’s proposal, it was simply an effort to turn a terrible bill into … well … a less terrible bill.
Amazingly enough, Republicans shot down the idea. They wouldn’t go along with proposal their own Governor asked them to pass. Perhaps they thought it wasn’t punitive enough on teachers? Perhaps they just don’t want to listen to ANYBODY, even if it’s in their own party? Or perhaps they are trying to prove they’re better at attacking teachers than Governor Snyder is?
Regardless of the reason, the Republicans once again turned their back on bipartisanship today, even when we argued to use THEIR party’s plan. Apparently it’s just easier in the end for Senate Republicans to tune the entire world out, even their own Governor, than it is to work cooperatively to find solutions to the many problems that face our state. Unfortunately, as they do so, our hardworking teachers continue to pay the price for those mistakes.
Take a look at the statement made by Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer as she argues against this legislation today:
When does a Kindergarten classroom go from being crowded to overcrowded? 20 students? 25 students?
How about 55?
According to The Detroit News today, the Detroit Fire Marshall responded to a complaint at Nolan Elementary School and found the kindergarten class so overcrowded that they issued the school a safety citation. According to the News, the school had put at least 55 children into that one classroom, while a science class at one of the district’s high schools had 72 students packed into it. In total, more than 200 classrooms throughout the Detroit Public School system, and countless others throughout the state, are over class size limits.
These are the consequences of taking nearly $1 billion out of public education as Governor Snyder and Republican legislators chose to do earlier this year in order to pay for their tax handout to big corporations. Schools throughout Michigan have lost upwards of $470 per pupil, forcing schools to be closed, teachers laid off, and classrooms to grow substantially.
55 kindergarteners in 1 classroom likely means that teacher is forced to spend far more time simply trying to keep that classroom under control than they are educating those young students. This should be unacceptable to any parent in any school district, just as it should be for legislators here in Lansing.
The concerns for our children’s education should be obvious after reading this story, however since Governor Snyder likes to focus on how he’s making Michigan more business friendly, the question remains how he expects to attract new businesses to Michigan when they see stories like this. Study after study shows that education and quality of life play a large role in where companies choose to locate and expand their business and a company is simply not going to pick Michigan if their employees’ children are going to be packed into overcrowded classrooms once they get here.
This story should serve as a wake-up call for Governor Snyder and his fellow Republicans to realize the critical importance of investing in our public education system rather than attacking it as they’ve done throughout 2011. Public education must serve as the foundation for a rebuilt Michigan. If we fail to build that foundation properly, the entire effort will unfortunately suffer the consequences.
I hope you’ll contact your state legislators today, as well as Governor Snyder, and tell them that 55 kindergarteners in a single classroom is simply unacceptable and that it’s time for them to make that investment in K-12 education that our children deserve.
Governor Snyder spent part of his afternoon today signing the new fiscal year budget into law, treating the event with great fanfare and even inviting the media to watch him put the final stamp on the severe and callous cuts to our schools and public safety that are included in that budget.
While the Governor was eager to celebrate the “success” of passing this budget, the real effects of it will unfortunately soon be seen. He has put in place a system that asks seniors and working families to give more so big businesses can give less. He has established a complex, confusing and inequitable three-tiered tax system on retirees. He has left school districts across Michigan teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Worst of all, he has done all of this without creating a single job in the process.
Governor Snyder explained the burdens he was placing on our working families and seniors as “shared sacrifice” and necessary evils if we were to balance our state’s budget this year. Unfortunately, his own Budget Director John Nixon seems to disagree. In a speech Mr. Nixon delivered to the Jackson Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Club only yesterday, he stated,“We could have balanced the budget without taxing pensions.”
I’m sure as Governor Snyder signed the budget into law today he’d rather nobody ask him about that statement his Budget Director made yesterday, but the question simply must be asked: If it is true that we could have balanced the budget without taxing pensions, why didn’t we? Why did the Governor make a choice to burden our senior population in order to pay for a tax handout that simply has no promise of creating jobs?
Unfortunately, that question will likely go unanswered.