The Siege on Michigan Public Education – By the Numbers

By Amy Kerr Hardin at Democracy Tree

Democracy Tree reported late last week that the effects of anti-union laws directed at Michigan teachers, including the ban on payroll deduction of dues and right-to-work, had a miniscule impact on the voluntary payment of dues among Michigan Education Association members.

MEA president Steve Cook said a mere 1 percent didn’t pay. The GOP scheme was a flop.

While that number by itself speaks of the utter failure of bullying tactics employed by the Michigan legislature, it says even more when put in a larger context. Here are some more numbers that make that 1 percent non-payment truly astounding.

Let’s start with the soft numbers.

Although it’s difficult to pin down, somewhere between 41 and 51 percent of MEA and NEA members are Democrats. The results vary by study and by year (and possibly who’s reporting them). Similarly, about 25 percent, more or less, identify as Republicans and the rest as Independents. Without citing or clinging to any particular study or survey here, if those numbers are even remotely close to accurate, they say plenty about how teachers place the importance of their union membership over political affiliation.  And, even if those numbers are wildly inaccurate, it is safe to say that the Democrat to Republican ratio among Michigan teachers is certainly not 99 to 1.

Now, here are some hard numbers to gnaw on.

  • MEA union dues are currently set at 1.5 percent of the previous year’s salary, with an annual cap of $635 — a figure 99 percent are willingly to pay for representation they value– even under the GOP assault.
  • Average beginning pay for Michigan K-12 teachers is $34,100. Average overall salary for Michigan teachers is $55,541.
  • Lawmakers in Michigan earn $71,685, which is among the highest nationwide. Their expense account offers another $10,800 a year, with additional generous allowances for transportation costs and staff.
  • Nearly all public school teachers spend heavily out-of-pocket to supply their classroom — a National School Supply and Equipment Association Survey found that 99.5 percent spent on average $485 a year for classroom materials. That dollar number reflects 1.4 percent of an entry-level teacher’s salary in Michigan.

There are additional hard numbers that demonstrate the depth and breadth of the siege on Michigan’s educators.

Some very disturbing trends were uncovered in a recent analysis conducted by the Citizens Research Council. Their report titled Michigan’s Single-State Recession and its Effects on Public Employment, spurred them to conduct a comparative state-by-state analysis of public sector employment trends since the 2007 “Great Recession”, with Michigan public education numbers in focus. They drew from data found in another report from The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. They found the following trends (emphasis mine):

Over the nearly four and one-half year period examined by the Rockefeller Institute, Michigan had the third largest slide in public sector employment (7.4 percent), behind Nevada (10.1 percent) and Rhode Island (8.3 percent).  In percentage terms, Michigan’s decline was nearly three times as large as the total U.S. public sector employment decline over this period (2.7 percent).  As documented in the CRC report, and confirmed by the Rockefeller Institute, job losses in the local government sector (11.4 percent – second largest decline behind Nevada) fueled the overall public sector decline in Michigan, as was the case for the nation as a whole (3.2 percent).

The job losses they cite in the “local government sector” are primarily from one subset — K-12 education.

Michigan’s job losses in this sector have been much more severe (more than a factor of four) compared to the U.S. total during the Great Recession…the losses have been fueled by the consistent plunge in education jobs (primarily K-12 education).  Education employment for the U.S. declined more than non-education, but the difference between the two sub-sectors was not as significant as the decline in Michigan.  For the U.S., education lost about 3.5 percent of the jobs in existence in December 2007, compared to a loss of about 2.0 percent of the non-education jobs.  Michigan, in stark contrast, shed over 17.8 percent of the jobs in education compared to the December 2007 level.  Non-education local government employment, which is dominated by public safety, is 6.8 percent below the December 2007.  This job loss is nearly three times as large as the loss in the U.S. for this sector.

The CRC drives the point home with the following observation:

What is striking from analyzing the data is the fact that Michigan’s employment contraction in [the public] sector has well exceeded the contraction experienced in the U.S. overall.   The job losses have been most acute in the local government sector, especially education.

Numbers don’t lie — Michigan public education is in great peril.

Amy Kerr Hardin