Property Tax Is out for Michigan Schools Governor Has No Alternative, Critics Charge

Article excerpt

At a ceremony outside a one-room schoolhouse attended by Henry Ford, the state of Michigan embarked Thursday on a potential revolution in public education.

Republican Gov. John Engler signed legislation that next year will eliminate local property taxes as a source of money for public schools, a radical and unprecedented step that many hope will lead to a fundamental restructuring of the school system.

How to replace some or all of the $6 billion a year in lost revenue - two-thirds of the money spent for elementary and secondary education here - is the most immediate and pressing task facing legislators in Lansing, Mich., in coming months. As part of that debate, Engler and his allies hope to push through a far-reaching overhaul of the education system and adopt a version of school "choice" plans long advocated by conservative Republicans.

Calling for a system that would "empower our families with (a) choice" of schools that would compete among themselves to attract students, Engler declared, "We can no longer accept in this state a monopoly of mediocrity."

The battle lines have been drawn for a bruising legislative battle. The strongest opposition to Engler's plans is expected to come from the Michigan Education Association and the Michigan Federation of Teachers, the unions that represent teachers and other school employees. Minutes after Engler signed the bill, the teachers federation filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court seeking to force the legislature to adopt a new funding mechanism immediately. …