West Mich. schools stand to lose millions if House road funding plan becomes law

Posted at 10:20 PM, Dec 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-10 22:48:01-05

WEST MICHIGAN -- While there might be little debate over just how bad Michigan's crumbling roads and bridges have become, the debate over how to pay to fix them rages on in Lansing.

In November, the Senate approved a plan that would essentially double the state's gas tax by changing the tax formula on gas, instead levying a sales tax as opposed to taxing on a per-gallon basis.

The latest proposal from state lawmakers out of the House is one that promises not to raise taxes but pulls money from public school districts and local municipalities to make up the difference.

For school districts across the state, including here in West Michigan, it could mean millions in losses, according to new estimates released Wednesday by the Michigan League for Public Policy with data compiled from the Michigan Association of School Boards and the House Fiscal Agency.

The House plan would increase fuel taxes while simultaneously  decreasing the sales tax on fuel, which is currently dedicated to schools and revenue sharing. The move would cost schools roughly $880 million dollars through the next nine years, with an average loss per pupil per year of roughly $475, according to House Fiscal Agency and MASB estimates.

“If this bill goes through, it really will be the death knell for public schools in this state," said Elizabeth Welch, attorney and board member with East Grand Rapids Public Schools.

“This bill would be forcing cuts at a level where districts, there’s just nothing left so if this actually goes through I’m fearful we’re making a decision as a state our public schools just don’t matter any more.”

For school districts across West Michigan, the breakdown of losses per year looks like this:

  • Allegan Public Schools, $1.24 million
  • Battle Creek Public Schools, $2.34
  • Caledonia Community Schools, $2.09
  • Coopersville Area Public Schools. $1.20
  • East Grand Rapids Public Schools, $1.42
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools, $7.59
  • Grandville Public Schools, $2.68
  • Kalamazoo Public Schools, $5.91
  • Kentwood Public Schools, $4.14
  • Muskegon Public Schools, $2.06
  • Portage Public Schools, $4.14
  • Rockford Public Schools, $3.73

Click here to search the Michigan League for Public Policy database to see how your school district would fare.

GRPS, the region's largest school district issued a response late Wednesday acknowledging the need for a road fix, while arguing it shouldn't be "on the backs of school children."

"GRPS recognizes and supports the need for a comprehensive approach at the state level to address Michigan's crumbling transportation infrastructure, but we do not support a solution, like the House plan, that funds it on the backs of school children," said GRPS spokesperson John Helmholdt in a statement.

“We are deeply concerned about the House road plan. At a time when the GRPS Transformation Plan is really taking root and restoring stability to the district -- as evidenced by rising graduation rates and the best Count Day in two decades -- we cannot afford the threat of this legislation and potential loss of millions of per pupil funding dollars."

Republicans in Lansing have argued the House plan factors in projected economic growth over the next six years, something that would bode well for school funding in the end.

Meanwhile for MDOT, which stands to receive about 39 percent of revenue under either the House or Senate plan, communications director Jeff Cranson says they remain privy to a plan that won't divert money from schools, which is in step with Gov. Rick Snyder's stance on the issue.

“It’s a great sign both chambers acknowledge there’s a need, we’ve come that far, but the governor feels the Senate plan goes a lot farther in terms of a sustainable solution and doesn’t do anything that might have a negative impact on schools," Cranson said.

“The day could come where they could say we’ve got to go beyond temporary solutions and close these (roads) down  until we can rebuild them… this isn’t to be taken lightly, this is a big deal and it’s what the governor’s been talking about it since he got elected."

Plans from both the House and Senate will now head to a conference committee where members appointed from both chambers and both parties will work this week to hammer out a compromise bill.