Archive for the ‘speeches’ Category

By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group

What is going on in education in this economy?

Schools across the country are scrambling to come up with the funds for both buildings and operations. When times are good this can be difficult, but since the fall of 2008 the funding has fallen off precipitously creating a funding gap in most states and raising the “degree of difficulty. 

Where does all that education money come from, anyway?

According to the U.S. Department of Education Website, “The responsibility for K-12 education rests with the states under the Constitution.”  Most funding for K-12 education still comes from “local” sources, whether that is very local (like a city) or a state (not as local).  In fact, about 83 percent of school funding still comes from state and local coffers. The federal government’s share is about 8.3 percent. (For those of you doing quick math, yes, you are right. That still leaves around 9 percent.  Most of that remaining amount comes directly from parents funding private schools.)

So no matter what the federal officials are promising in education spending, their hands are tied by the constitution as to how much they can really help, and the real challenges are faced by the states. That is both good and bad news. Every one of us has more of an opportunity to shape how our education dollars are spent since we live closer to where the majority of decisions are being made.  But if you live in a state that is particularly hard hit by a recession (like here in Michigan), there are very few options to keep our schools running well.

In Michigan, back in the 90’s, we passed Proposition A which moved most of the funding for schools from our property taxes to the state sales tax.  While this had the positive effects of helping the poorer districts and relieving the property tax burden on homeowners, it took a lot of decision making further away from the local cities and towns. 

Now with the auto industry being hit hard people, are moving out of the state in droves causing all areas of tax revenues to drop.  The state has been cutting the amount of per pupil funding putting school districts in the unenviable position of having to cut programs and staff to stay financially viable.

Sidebar: Anything we fund via tax money is very vulnerable to an economic slump. Since the number one expense for schools is staff pay and benefits, maybe we should tie pay and benefit levels to percent increase/decrease in those revenues. Jobs would be secure, but pay would be variable. Very radical, I know. We’ll leave that for another time.

Obviously, this is not just a Michigan problem. Pick your state, pick your impacted industry and you have a similar story. 

Now enter those of us trying to make a living selling into this market. I don’t have to tell you how tough it is. But with so much pain and angst reverberating through most school systems whose administrators are just trying to figure out how to heat buildings and keep teachers in the classroom, it is pretty easy for them to put off buying furniture and equipment for another year.  We may not have seen the bottom of this downturn. 

Unfortunately, that means a lot of people are losing their jobs as we speak, both in schools and in the businesses that supply schools. Our industry is “shaking out.”  Until the economy turns around enough for people to pass school bond issues at the polls, while also spending more money that generates tax income, we are likely to see these trends continue.

Are you ready for at least one sign of hope? 

According to the Michigan Department of Treasury Website, in our state—which has the nation’s highest unemployment—24 of the 35 reported (to date) school bond issues were passed this month (69 percent).  That compares to 47 percent in 2007 (the last full year before the economic meltdown) and 48 percent in 1999 (the end of the decade of almost universal prosperity). 

If people in Michigan are willing to approve a significantly higher percentage of tax increases for their schools in the midst of our economic misery, maybe we ARE near the bottom!

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On October 24, 2009, President Barack Obama gave his weekly address that had a much needed focus on small business. In his address entitled “Working with Small Business to Drive Recovery,” Obama discussed the important role small business plays on the safe recovery of the economy. He mentioned that “small businesses have always been the engine of our economy, creating 65 percent of all new jobs over the last decade and a half and they must be at the forefront of our recovery.”

In that same week, Obama also met with small business owners to get their reactions to his proposals that involve: increasing caps for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, giving community banks better access to tarp funding and giving small businesses affordable healthcare options. In a recent video clip, MSNBC.com mentions Obama’s recent meeting with small business owners and talks with SBA Administrator Karen Mills about her efforts to spearhead Obama’s lending proposals forward.

Let NSSEA know your thoughts!

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On October 22, 2009, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech about teacher preparation that many say was a wake-up call for those in education. Duncan mentions in his speech “that many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom.”

Duncan discusses three major challenges in education that make the need to improve teacher preparation programs more important than ever. He mentions that the education that Americans received in the past just will no longer be acceptable and that every child should be receiving the same quality education, although many are not. He also mentions that the dropout rate for high school students is too high and that “nearly 30 percent of our students today drop out or fail to complete high school on time—that is 1.2 million kids a year. Barely 60 percent of African-American and Latino students graduate on time—and in many cities, half or more of low-income teens drop out of school.”

For more information about Duncan’s speech, visit: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/10/10222009.html and let NSSEA know your thoughts.

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