Thursday, March 02, 2006

A message to Michigan's Senate Democrats, wherever they are...

I received a nice email yesterday from Michigan's Senate Democrats, apprising me of the issues that they are working on. I have received many such messages from my own senator, a Republican, and have been disappointed to find she has no apparent interest in solving Michigan's school funding crisis.

So I scanned the Democrats letter with actual excitement, wondering what they would say about our schools. Nothing.

They did offer an email address for my comments, and I obliged with enthusiasm. Unfortunately that mail was returned: "User unknown in virtual alias table".

So here is my letter, for all to see. Perhaps I can find someone to send it to when I get home from work.

Thanks for your email newsletter. I'm glad to see that you are being proactive on the issue of factory farms. This is especially important as avian flu gets closer.

BUT... I'm amazed that you have nothing to say about the number one issue for communities across Michigan: the worsening financial problems in our public schools.

Here in Leelanau County, our two largest school districts are facing six-figure budget shortfalls, despite an ongoing and creative campaign to cut costs. The $200 increase in the per-pupil grant proposed by the governor is only a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to fund increased energy costs, more rigorous graduation requirements, and out-of-control retirement costs.

One of the least publicized components of Proposal A was to put 100% of retirement costs on the shoulders of local school districts. These costs are rising fast, in part due to our nation's inability to reform our health care system. School districts have little opportunity to negotiate for savings in these costs. Where were the Democrats when proposals were floated last year to allow districts to group together to buy health insurance for staff and retirees?

Public schools are the glue that holds our communities together. They are the hope for our state's economic resurgence; without a well educated workforce we will be reduced to fighting for the crumbs of the world's riches. They are the hope for the least of our citizens, for the young and the poor, who find welcome, community and the chance to succeed regardless of financial circumstances. And public schools are the most American of institutions, bringing us together and teaching us to get along. Without public schools, we would be fighting like Sunnis and Shiites.

Michigan's Democrats should be sounding the alarm about our school funding problems. They should be telling the world, in no uncertain terms, that public schools are important and will not be sacrificed.

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