Area schools lose funds; St. Clair County roads, community college gain funds

The new St. Clair County Community College STEM Children’s Museum was the recipient of a $400,000 enhancement grant approved by elected leaders in Lansing late last year.

TRI-CITY AREA — Before the clock officially turned to 2019, the “lame duck” legislature and outgoing Governor Rick Snyder took action on a number of public education-related issues that will impact local school districts and all others across the state.

Among them was a tax shift measure, officially known as House Bill 4991, that will divert more than $170 million of state income tax revenue from the School Aid Fund to instead fund road repairs and environmental cleanup.

According to the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), the shift means the percentage of income tax revenue intended for the School Aid Fund has been lowered.

“It will mean $141 million in this fiscal year, $174 million in the next and continual increases going forward will be put toward roads and environmental cleanup issues rather than our schools. While roads and the environment are important issues, we should not be using school dollars to fix them,” the organization said in a Dec. 21 publication.

According to a post on their Twitter account, Dryden Schools will lose $3.28 million over a span of multiple years as a result of the tax shift.

“At a time when multiple independent studies have stated that Michigan needs to be spending more money on education, it is irresponsible for the Legislature to divert these funds to pay for other projects. It continues to show that when the state’s General Fund is tight, this Governor and the Legislature don’t mind using the School Aid Fund as a piggy bank rather than consider appropriate ways to pay for all of their priorities,” the MASB stated.

Among local elected officials, Lapeer County’s Rep. Gary Howell was the only one to cast a ‘no’ vote for the tax shift bill. Term-limited senators Mike Green (31st) and Phil Pavlov (25th) were in favor of the bill along with St. Clair County’s 81st State Rep. Dan Lauwers.

Additionally, elected leaders sought to create a new ranking system for Michigan schools that would give districts an A-F letter in five areas-including proficiency and growth in English and math test scores, high school graduation rates and more.

Just one year ago, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) introduced their new “dashboard” system that allows users to access much of this kind of information already.

According to media reports, the MDE will consult legal experts before implementing the new ranking system because, they believe, a portion of the bill violated federal law.

Again, Howell cast a ‘no’ vote for this bill while Lauwers cast a ‘yes’ vote.

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Before leaving Lansing, the House and Senate approved a sizable supplemental budget too, including various “enhancement grants.” Locally, some of those grant funds were earmarked for the St. Clair County Road Commission, which received $200,000, and the St. Clair County Community College STEM Children’s Museum, which received $400,000.

According to a press release from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, they partnered with the college to create the Experience Center, a 10,000 square foot hands-on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) center, that opened in late 2018.

“The center – the only one of its kind in St. Clair County and the Blue Water Area – will provide interactive teaching and learning opportunities for students and guests of all ages through exhibits, a maker space and educational programming opportunities. A series of custom and unique interactive hands-on exhibits will complement the college’s existing exhibits in the Dr. Bassam H. Nasr Science Museum, which is housed in the Experience Center,” the museum stated in a press release.