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Halt unfunded mandates

November 22, 2010
By CLAUDE SIDERS, North Dickinson County School Superintendent

By now it is a troubling but all-to-familiar picture: The sour Michigan economy continues to force school districts across the state to hand out pink slips to caring teachers, to increase class sizes, to reduce academic offerings and curtail or eliminate important - but non-essential - extracurricular activities.

As a result it's now more important than ever that schools do everything within their power to cut out waste and stretch precious educational dollars to provide our students with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn and grow.

That's why school districts are united in an urgent call on state lawmakers to curb bureaucratic demands on local schools and to make certain the state either fully reimburses schools for the actual cost of information-gathering that it foists upon them or eliminate the massive amount of data that they are required to collect and report.

That it is the right thing to do should be sufficient motivation. But it is also required by the very same Michigan Constitution that elected officials vow to uphold in their oaths of office.

In its brief lame duck legislative session (No. 30-Dec. 2) the Michigan Senate will take up House Bill 5887 which was approved with no debate in a late-night session of the House.

A portion of the bill is intended to comply with a recent Michigan Supreme Court ruling that found the state was violating the Constitution by requiring school districts to compile and report a mountain of largely non-academic information by not paying for it as is required by the voter-approved Headlee Amendment of 1978.

The problem is that the dollar figure in the bill is a laughable $25.6 million when the actual cost to local schools is more likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars. We urge lawmakers to amend that portion of the bill.

Additionally, school officials across Michigan say the time has come for the Legislature to finally put a halt to the endless paper chase required of local schools by state bureaucrats under threat of withholding educational funding.

If the request for information serves a legitimate education purpose, fine, provided the state pays the cost as legally required. But if the information is of questionable or dubious value then local districts should not be forced to compile and report it.

With the jobs in the new economy demanding ever increasing skills, schools cannot afford to waste money or be distracted from their core responsibility of equipping students with the knowledge they'll need for a fulfilling future.

We're asking Michigan lawmakers to tamp down the never-ending demand for information from a state bureaucracy gone amok. If information isn't essential, don't collect it. If the information is deemed important, then the state must pay the cost of collecting and reporting it.

As educators, we must never lose sight of our primary mission.

It's more than a quaint notion that schools should first and foremost be all about the Three R's - Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.



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