Engler's Angle: How Tax Relief Became School Reform in Michigan

By Green, Derek | Reason, August-September 1994 | Go to article overview

Engler's Angle: How Tax Relief Became School Reform in Michigan


Green, Derek, Reason


For many years, Michigan was like most other states when it came to public-school reform: There was a lot of talk, a little legislation, and no real progress on the issue. Even after the Kalkaska School District in northern Michigan made national headlines in 1993 by going broke and closing its schools partway through the academic year, legislators still couldn't find the wherewithal to overhaul the state's inefficient and widely despised 100-year-old system of funding education through property taxes. Property taxes were a major problem in their own right: They increased three-fold from 1972 to 1992. And because there were no assessment caps in place, local governments could raise property taxes with relative ease.

"You can't imagine the level of frustration in this state," says Bob Wittmann, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Midland, Michigan. "The frustration was felt by everyone. No one liked the status quo, but every time someone tried to do something about it, something went wrong."

The frustration--and desperation--in the governor's office was especially keen. First-term Republican John Engler had squeaked through his 1990 election with a victory margin of one percentage point, campaigning on a platform loaded with tax relief and school reform. But after three years in office, Engler and company had nothing to show for their efforts. And with re-election worries on the horizon, few believed that education or tax reform would come to Michigan any time soon.

Last July, however, everything suddenly changed. In a 24-hour blaze of lawmaking, Michigan legislators stunned even themselves by passing a controversial bill abolishing the practice of funding schools with property taxes. By the end of December, a bipartisan package of school-finance plans and education-quality reforms had passed both houses and gone to the governor's desk for signing.

Somehow, in less than six months, Michigan's leadership had managed to reverse a quarter century of bitter partisan gridlock, dramatically changing the way schools will work in their state and, many are saying, providing a model for public-school reform across the country--one that includes a charter-school provision incorporating significant elements of school-choice logic. It's a story of political hardball and genuine bipartisan achievement that provides a lesson for every state faced with education reform.

Described by The New York Times as "the nation's most dramatic shift in a century" in public-school funding, the new plan essentially transfers the burden of paying for schools in Michigan away from local property taxes to an increased state sales tax and other existing levies. In addition to changing funding sources, the plan addresses the amount spent per student. Every district is guaranteed funding no lower than its 1993 budget, and all districts will now spend at least $4,200 per student, a $1,000 increase over the previous minimum.

A more controversial--and ultimately more significant--provision of the plan allows the creation of "Public School Academies," or charter schools. These "schools of choice" can be established by various entities, such as parent-teacher associations, school boards, departments of state government, and non-profit organizations.

Michigan is unique among states experimenting with charter schools because it has set no limit on their number. Supporters say the move will provide "borderless options" for parents and students unhappy with their own school districts, and spur much-needed innovation in a school system overgrown with regulation and bureaucracy. And because it introduces a significant element of competition into the state's public schools, the charter-school provision acts as a hedge against the spread of uniform mediocrity. When local property taxes largely determine the amount of money spent per student, there are typically good, well-funded schools and bad, poorly funded ones. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Engler's Angle: How Tax Relief Became School Reform in Michigan
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.