A move in Lansing to add $120 a year to per-pupil state aid for the lowest-funded public school districts is going to be a boon for many northern Michigan districts.
Traverse City schools could receive an additional $1.2 million, Kingsley about $174,000, Mancelona $117,000, Petoskey an estimated $357,000 and Elk Rapids $61,000.
But this bit of good news must be leavened by prior realities. Perspective is everything here and will be until Traverse City and other low-funded districts get back to where they were before the Legislature began hacking away at school funding.
Even with the additional money the districts will get this fall, the lowest-paid districts will still get nearly 5 percent less than the $7,316 per student they received in 2010-11.
That was before Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature took them to the chopping block and reduced that amount by $470 per student. That cost Traverse City, with nearly 10,000 students, a jaw-dropping $4.7 million. So while the new money is critical, the gap between what the district gets now and got then is still huge and still hurts.
It must be said that the approximately $1 billion diverted from public schools went to community colleges and universities, so it at least was used for education. But diverting money from little kids to help out the older kids is just a shell game. While Michigan doesn't necessarily have to restore education funding to pre-recession levels, lawmakers must make public schools whole again and reduce the crushing burden of continuing tuition hikes on young people headed off to college.
Though it has become chic — and downright bizarre — among some to take to task young people who have amassed huge tuition debts, some facts must be recognized:
n Study after study has said the best single way for Michigan to get back on its feet is to invest in young people by helping them get the college degrees they need to compete in the global economy.
n While tuition was soaring, the state has been busy gouging out nearly $1 billion in state support for higher ed.
n Our secret shame — not so secret any more — is that the state now spends more taxpayer money on prisons than on higher education, a totally unsustainable waste of resources that will, pretty quickly now, come back to haunt us.
Michigan must act soon to get tuition back down to levels young people can afford.
Snyder and others are right that schools must also make changes to reflect our new budget reality. Employees are going to have to help pay for their health care, like virtually every worker in the private sector, and districts must consider privatizing some services to save money.
As was proven by Suttons Bay schools — which struck a deal with the Bay Area Transit Authority to take over student busing — privatization can save a district hundreds of thousands without harming service.
There is a long, long way to go before education funding gets back to where it needs to be, and that won't happen as long as Republicans in the Legislature continue their war on the state teachers' unions. Gov. Snyder doesn't seem to have any taste for that battle, and his leadership may prove the difference.
Locally, state Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, who sat on the conference committee that worked out the $120-per-student boost, has long been an advocate for equity in per-pupil funding and got kudos from school officials for being a go-to guy on the issue.
His work to bring parity to school spending has made a difference, and constituents can't ask for much more than that.
Children are the future, and well-educated and well-prepared children will shape a better future for the state and themselves. It's the only way back.