Democratic Attorney General Candidates Favor Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

Bipartisan support for protecting property rights and due process

Pat Miles and Dana Nessel

In 2016, the latest year for which we have data, at least 700 innocent people lost their property through civil asset forfeiture. According to documents received through open records requests, the typical asset lost —a car or cash — was worth about $500.

These takings can be challenged in court. But 80 percent of people who had property forfeited made no such challenge, meaning their assets defaulted to the government. That makes sense: Would you file a claim in civil court and hire an attorney just for a chance of getting back your $500? Probably not, and that’s why these people may not have been admitting guilt, but perhaps just acting rationally.

This illustrates why it’s so important that the Michigan Legislature reform civil asset forfeiture and require a criminal conviction before property is transferred to the government. The House Judiciary Committee is considering this now.

The issue has garnered bipartisan support, and the attorney general candidates on the Democratic side were asked about their position by Michigan Radio.

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Dana Nessel is an attorney from Detroit who previously worked in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office, which processes a lot of forfeitures every year. Here’s an excerpt from the Michigan Radio article:

“I truly, honestly believe this to be a violation of due process," says Nessel. "What I see all the time is this: people who have never been convicted of a crime, people who have never even been charged with a crime and, you know, the police get a search warrant, they bust down somebody’s door and they take everything. They take all of their cash. They take all of their automobiles. If they have any money in a bank account, they freeze and seize that. (People) have to hire an attorney to basically prove those assets did not come about, did not come into their possession as a result of criminal distribution of narcotics."

She says if elected Attorney General, her office will not use civil asset forfeiture. But, if someone is found guilty in court…

“I don’t mind criminal asset forfeiture. When you have proven someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, I think it’s absolutely fair game to go after property that was the result of the narcotics distribution or manufacturing,” Nessel explained.

Her opponent in the race is Pat Miles, previously the U.S. attorney in Michigan’s western district. He initially said civil asset forfeiture has seen some abuses but that it’s an important tool for law enforcement. By the end of the interview with Michigan Radio, however, he clarified his position. Here’s an excerpt:

Pat Miles: "There are instances where asset forfeiture is very appropriate, where people are using the proceeds from criminal conduct in terms of, and they should be, that’s what asset forfeiture is about. And so there are instances where it’s appropriate to use asset forfeiture."

Lester Graham: "Before or after conviction?"

PM: “Before conviction. There are instances where it’s appropriate.”

LG: "Can you give me an idea where that would be the case, where due process wouldn’t matter?"

PM: “Well, due process should always matter, and, so, but there is the instance where assets are forfeited from proceeds of large scale drug trafficking, from proceeds of embezzlement and other types of cases like that.”

We went on to talk about other issues and at the end of the interview, like I often do, I asked if he had anything to add.

PM: “Well, we can go back to the asset forfeiture question if you want. I might have a better soundbite for you.”

LG: (laughs) "Okay. That’s fine with me. What do you want us to know about asset forfeiture?"

PM: “Well, I would say that on asset forfeiture, that we should make sure that there’s due process before people’s assets are taken and that in all cases that law enforcement is not allowed to unilaterally seize assets rather than freeze assets.”

LG: "That’s a little different from what you were saying before."

PM: “It is.”

LG: "This is your position?"

PM: “That’s my position.”

In an interview with Gongwer, Miles said he supported legislation that would require a conviction.

Politicians across the board should agree on this: No innocent person should lose property without the government first having proved wrongdoing occured. The Michigan Legislature has an opportunity to enhance Michiganders’ property rights and due process protections. To learn more about this issue and track the legislation, visit

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Dearborn Schools Rise to the Top

District has remarkable showing on new CAP report card

Photo provided by Dearborn Public Schools.

While most Michigan school districts are losing students and struggling with academic achievement, Dearborn Public Schools is bucking the trend. Serving 20,000 students, the state's third-largest district is operating more than its share of top-flight schools.

On the Mackinac Center's latest Elementary and Middle School Context and Performance Report Card, which rated the performance of 2,261 Michigan public schools, Dearborn towered above all other conventional districts and many charter schools. In fact, five of the top 10 "CAP" scores for all schools, and seven of the top eight scores for conventional district schools, are from Dearborn Public Schools. Fully half of the 30 Dearborn district schools rated in the top 4 percent of all schools statewide.

"The CAP Report Card shows that our strategic plan is working and exemplifies the hard work by our staff, parents, Board of Education and our students," Superintendent Glenn Maleyko said.

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Along with the three-year look at M-STEP results, the latest edition of the CAP Report Card rates schools for long-term performance over eight years of measured data and highlights improvements made over that time.

The report card factors multiple years of M-STEP test scores for third through eighth graders and adjusts the results based on the share of student test-takers who qualify for free lunches. There is a strong statistical connection between student poverty and low academic achievement, because of the disadvantages and challenges typically faced by low-income students.

About 70 percent of Dearborn Public Schools students are eligible for free lunch benefits. The rates are even higher in schools like Iris Becker Elementary (pictured), number two overall and highest in long-term performance, and Maples Elementary, number three overall and one of the 10 most improved schools in Michigan. Students in these schools outperform their more affluent peers statewide even without adjusting scores based on poverty rates.

Interestingly, the share of Dearborn students who come from homes where English is not the first language is 48 percent, nearly eight times greater than the state average. A predominantly Arab-American population contributes to more than 60 different spoken dialects identified in the community.

The student language characteristic does not factor into the CAP Report Card model, but it does represent a different challenge students must overcome as they get up to speed in tested subjects. Helping these students expand their English language vocabulary and reading proficiency is a key focus for the district.

Dearborn leaders attribute some of their success to the regular practice of "Specific School Classroom Visits", both announced and unannounced. These visits incorporate clear, quick and thorough feedback to teachers based on a model of consistent expectations and strategies throughout the district. The process highlights a purposeful attempt to move the culture from compliance to continuous improvement.

The unusual organization of the district also appears to facilitate the sharing of best practices and resources in a more efficient manner. Rather than divide administrative oversight between elementary and secondary schools, the district is organized vertically by an area's feeder system, which includes all the assigned neighborhood schools in a given area that feed into one comprehensive public high school. Dearborn leaders say this approach has fostered greater cooperation that leads to a more coherent focus.

"We are very fortunate in Dearborn to have a community that values and places a high importance on education. They are very supportive of our efforts," said Maleyko. "However, the real difference maker is the dedicated and hard-working staff that partners with parents and the community to ensure our students grow and achieve at high levels..

Overall, Dearborn receives and spends a little more per student than the average Michigan local district. Funding dipped during the tightest years of the recession, but has since moved up to a little more than $12,000 per student. By comparison nearby Detroit Public Schools Community District operates at about $15,000 per pupil, but with significantly worse results.

Indicators show that Dearborn's success doesn't end at eighth grade. In addition to the latest distinguished performance, two of the district's four high schools finished among the top 20 in the state on a similar report card for high schools. The publicly reported four-year graduation rate climbed from 76 percent in 2011 to 95 percent in 2017.

By numerous key measures, most Dearborn schools are clearly outperforming the pack in Michigan. But room for improvement remains, as the state overall has lost ground to every other state on the best measures of math and reading achievement.

If Michigan is going to turn around its lackluster academic results, the examples of higher-performing public school systems like Dearborn's could help lead the way.

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Bipartisanship on Criminal Justice Reform Continues to Grow

Common ground needed to overcome current shortcomings of justice system

In a recent op-ed in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Doug DeVos, former chair of the West Michigan Policy Forum, outlines why “criminal justice reform is the right thing to do, for all of us.” Citing Michigan’s high corrections spending and relatively high crime rate, DeVos calls for change.

Specifically, he wants the Legislature to repudiate the outdated “tough on crime” mentality, which, he writes, has had the unintended effect of being “tough on taxpayers.” He adds that Michiganders have a responsibility to end policies that needlessly devastate individuals, families and communities and make it difficult for former offenders to assimilate back into society.

This is the new-school conservative point of view on criminal justice and a significant shift toward a bipartisan agreement on these issues. DeVos is calling for measures that traditionally have been favored by liberal groups and politicians, such as the release of medically frail prisoners and the automatic parole of prisoners who have served their minimum sentence.

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Despite agreeing on these policy solutions, new-school conservatives and liberals still approach criminal justice reforms from different perspectives. While the Left tends to focus on “social justice” and ending “mass incarceration,” thought leaders on the Right are generally more concerned about efficient corrections spending and the negative consequences for public safety stemming from some “tough on crime” policies. Nevertheless, reformers across the spectrum have found some common ground.

For example, the concept of “smart on crime” is something everyone can agree on: It’s needlessly harsh and financially inefficient to over-incarcerate offenders. Both sides should support getting former offenders into productive employment, because work is good for both public safety and social justice. And there’s wide support for addressing factors like mental illness, recidivism and poverty, which are the root causes explaining why many people are imprisoned. Prison should be reserved for the real threats to safety and society, not a place where we put people we don’t know how to help.

With another state election cycle fast approaching, it’s reassuring to remember that we have at least one issue where there’s bipartisan support for commonsense reforms.

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A Look At The State Budget for Business Subsidies

Old ideas get new taxpayer cash

Gov. Rick Snyder moved from being a skeptic of business subsidies to a supporter over time. His latest budget shows his legacy on the issue.

His recommended budget for the state’s business subsidy programs is down slightly. It calls for $161.8 million in state taxpayer-paid subsidy programs, down from $170.9 million this year. There is an additional $28.9 million for administration, a small increase from this year.

The state will continue handing out favors in its Michigan Business Development Program and Community Revitalization Program. Their money comes from general taxpayer dollars, either directly from taxation or from the tobacco settlement money that could also have been spent elsewhere in the budget.

These programs were replacements of programs that operated during the Granholm and Engler administrations. The older programs operated as tax credit programs, meaning there was no budgetary cap on them. The newer programs, by contrast, received direct budgetary approval, so at least legislators knew how much money they were going to spend on them. The old tax credits assign costs that are paid by future taxpayers, kicking the costs of today’s ribbon-cuttings onto tomorrow’s residents. The deals made as far back as the 1990s are still taxpayer obligations and the people who were awarded them are expecting to collect $717.6 million in this year alone. By contrast, the MBDP and MCRP keep lawmakers from obligating future generations.

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But lawmakers have been inconsistent on whether business subsidies should be budgeted. The governor also championed last year — and the Legislature approved — two off-budget programs that will ring up another $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits. So the state will continue to create obligations that must be paid for down the road.

The recipients in the older program are kept secret. It is considered to be confidential taxpayer information. Recipients of the new budgeted programs, however, can be disclosed and that’s a good thing for transparency’s sake. But lawmakers ought to clarify that residents can be told about where their tax money is going for the older programs as well.

So the state now operates smaller programs that are more transparent than the older ones. That’s an improvement, but transparent programs can still be ineffective. A recent report looked at the MBDP and found spending on it hurt the economy more than it helped.

The state is spending money on selected businesses in other ways, too.

Pure Michigan has been around for a long time, even though the old campaign has gotten stale. But regardless, the governor wants another $35 million for it this year, also from that fungible tobacco settlement money. It’s a waste of cash, as tourism businesses should pay for their own advertising.

The state will also continue to manage some of the 21st Century Jobs Fund programs, though it will likely still fail to meet transparency requirements of law and good governance. Both the 21st Century Jobs Fund programs and Pure Michigan began in previous administrations.

To their credit, lawmakers got rid of a handful of narrowly targeted business subsidy programs over the past eight years. After spending a half-billion taxpayer dollars on the film industry, the state no longer forks over cash for film productions. The state also no longer has programs for subsidizing battery plants, or solar panels, or “anchor companies.” But these interests may still be able to get money from taxpayers under the new MBDP.

Getting rid of a few programs was a step in the right direction. Limiting what remains was a further step. But it seems that those steps were as far as our lawmakers wanted to go. So they’re going to discuss again another year of delivering around $170 million to select interests.

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MSU Sex Crime Lawsuits, Online Voter Registration, Dead Voters, More

March 16, 2018 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

Senate Bill 872, Extend statute of limitations on criminal sexual conduct suits: Passed 28 to 7 in the Senate

To extend to 10 years the statute of limitations on filing a civil lawsuit related to criminal sexual conduct offenses, or if the victim was a minor, until the individual turns 48 years of age, with some narrow exceptions. This would apply retroactively to offenses committed after 1996, and would not require that any criminal prosecution or other legal action was ever brought as a result of an alleged offense. Alleged victims would have to file suits within one year after the bill becomes law.

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Senate Bill 425, Authorize electronic voter registration: Passed 35 to 1 in the Senate

To require the Secretary of State to develop a system for online voter registration on its website. An individual would have to have a valid driver license or state identification card to use the proposed system.

Senate Bill 637, Cap allowable fees for 'small cell wireless' systems: Passed 33 to 3 in the Senate

To establish a comprehensive regulatory regime for small cell wireless systems that use routers on power line poles and other existing infrastructure to provide cell phone and internet access without needing expensive towers. The bill would cap the amount that state and local governments could charge for zoning, permits and other fees.

House Bill 5456, Ban asbestos lawsuit “double dipping”: Passed 35 to 1 in the Senate

To require plaintiffs who seek damages for alleged asbestos-related conditions to disclose whether they have already filed suits against trusts or claims pools created in previous asbestos bankruptcy cases. Reportedly some plaintiff attorneys have filed multiple suits seeking duplicate damages. The bill would also authorize reopening and readjusting cases and damage awards in such cases.

House Bill 5180, Potentially permit air bows for hunting during firearms season: Passed 59 to 47 in the House

To potentially permit the use of pneumatic air bows to hunt game during any open season in which a firearm may be used, and also potentially permit disabled hunters to use air bows during bow season. Specifically, the bill allows but does not require state officials to authorize this. These devices are like crossbows but use compressed air to drive an arrow.

House Bill 5646, Check voter lists against Social Security death lists: Passed 101 to 5 in the House

To require the Secretary of State to check the statewide qualified voter file against the U.S. Social Security Administration's death master file on a monthly basis. Also, to enroll the state in multistate voter registration verification programs, to the extent these do not require a new law to be passed or pushed.

SOURCE:, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit

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What Michigan Government Lacks in Transparency

Billions in business subsidies still can’t be disclosed

It is a travesty that state officials refuse to disclose to Michigan residents which companies are collecting how much of literally billions of state tax dollars in business subsidy payments. The state makes available a treasure trove of information on most of its spending, but mum’s the word when it comes to providing transparency on this “economic development” money.

From 1995 to 2011, state economic development officials selected several hundred businesses to get tax credits for up to 20 years. All told, $14 billion worth was awarded, according to the state auditor general, with the bill to be paid by taxpayers years after the deals were made. The tax credits were “refundable,” which means that whenever the credit due a given firm exceeds its tax liability, the firm gets a check covered by hard-earned tax dollars residents send to Lansing each year.

And that’s what happened most of the time. Taxpayers paid out $900 million more than what the companies owed in taxes last year.

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These cash handouts were sold to the public as an economic development program, but data on the handouts indicates that they failed to accomplish that job. In reality, the state comes out behind after spending hundreds of millions on job creation.

Most of these credits have yet to be cashed in. State officials expect to pay out another $7 billion before the credits expire.

Government officials are spending tax dollars and yet lawmakers won’t disclose to taxpayers who is collecting their money. Last fall a bipartisan bill was introduced to make this information public, but it has yet to get a hearing. Sadly, it is not the first such bill to be offered — and then ignored.

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Want Money For Roads? Take It from This Failing Program

Michigan Business Development Program funding should end

Michigan lawmakers are in the midst of putting together the state’s budget for the next fiscal year. There is a push to put more money into roads and infrastructure. But one easy place to cut and shift the funding is the Michigan Business Development Program.

The MBDP only “develops” some businesses at the expense of everyone else by giving subsidies to a few companies selected by bureaucrats. The current budget allocates about $115 million for the MBDP and another subsidy program.

A recent review found that MBDP spending is being wasted. Of the approximately 319 companies the state approved incentives over a five-year period, about one-third have failed or are in some form of default. (Not every dismissal was necessarily the fault of the company and some deals were later reconstituted.) Looking at the total cost of the program shows that every $500,000 spent is associated with 600 fewer jobs in the average county in which the projects were located.

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This includes Cherry Growers, a company approved for millions and projected to create 72 jobs – it instead went bankrupt. Spiech Farms in West Michigan was approved for $220,000 – it filed for bankruptcy less than a year later. The largest amount, a loan worth $10 million, went to the QLine – an expensive Detroit streetcar called a “publicity stunt” with wildly unrealistic ridership projections.

Cherry Growers received the grant along with another company at the same location. That other company remains in business.

Just under $157 million has actually been disbursed in MBDP goodies through fiscal 2016. That would have filled a lot of potholes.

Lawmakers should take the tens of millions dedicated to the program now and spend it on roads or give it back to taxpayers. That’s good for the state and broadly supported by Michigan citizens.

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Michigan Taxpayers Don’t Need to Spend Another $4 Billion Annually on Infrastructure

Free Credit Freezes, Expel Student Sex Offenders, Release Frail Prisoners

March 9, 2018 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

House Bill 5094, Ban credit bureaus charging for security freeze: Passed 35 to 1 in the Senate

To prohibit consumer credit rating agencies from charging a fee to place, remove or temporarily lift a security freeze on an individual who requests this. Under current law these agencies can charge $10 unless the consumer has filed an identity theft-related police report. The bill was introduced following a security breech at the Equifax agency that reportedly put 140 million individuals at risk of identity theft.

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Senate Bill 799, Require state revenue estimators to estimate prisoner counts and costs: Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate

To require the biannual state revenue estimating conferences to include estimates of the coming year’s prison population, prison capacity, payroll and cost per prisoner.

House Bill 5463, Ban selling or delivering nitrous oxide to minors: Passed 104 to 3 in the House

To ban selling or delivering nitrous oxide to individuals under the age of 18, subject to a $500 fine. Current law bans selling or delivering nitrous oxide (laughing gas) for purposes of getting high, but reportedly young people are buying N2O cartridges and devices that use it in food preparation applications.

House Bill 5531, Expel students who commit sex crimes: Passed 93 to 14 in the House

To expand the law requiring the mandatory suspension or expulsion of pupils for certain violence or weapons offenses to also include committing criminal sexual conduct against another student. Specifically, a student who is guilty of committing a criminal sexual conduct violation against another student would be prohibited from attending the same school as the victim.

House Bill 5407, Require defendant be present for victim impact statements: Passed 105 to 2 in the House

To require that the criminal defendant be present in court at the time a victim exercises his or her right under state law to make an oral victim impact statement in felony cases. The victim could also choose to have the defendant excluded.

House Bill 5234, Authorize probation for medically frail prisoners: Passed 99 to 9 in the House

To let county sheriffs request and a court grant probation for a prisoner who is physically or mentally incapacitated due to a medical condition that renders the prisoner unable to perform activities of basic daily living, and/or the prisoner requires 24-hour care. Also, to let county sheriffs ask and a court grant a compassionate release if a physician determines the prisoner is not expected to live more than six months.

House Bill 4101, Authorize parole for “medically frail” prisoners: Passed 94 to 14 in the House

To allow medically frail prisoners whose condition makes them “a minimal threat to society” to be paroled to a hospital, hospice, nursing home or other suitable accommodation for the balance of their term.

Senate Bill 353, Preempt local bans on employers asking about past wages: Passed 62 to 46 in the House

To expand a law that prohibits local governments from restricting what prospective employers can ask on a job application. Among other things a local government could not prohibit an employer from asking about a prospective employee's previous salary history during a job interview.

SOURCE:, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit

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Salt Bill Would Raises Prices On All To Benefit One Company

Senate Bill 363 is held up in the Michigan House

The Michigan Senate came together on a bill that raises costs for all citizens to benefit one select company.

That’s not exactly how most politicians would describe it, but that is the actual effect of Senate Bill 363. The proposed law requires the state to pay higher prices (up to 8 percent) on salt it purchases from other countries versus what it would pay to purchase salt from a company located in Michigan. It is believed that the only Michigan-based company that would benefit from an artificially higher price is the Detroit Salt Company.

This is pure protectionism. The key argument from proponents, noted in the Senate Fiscal Agency report on the bill, makes that clear:

One product that the state purchases is road salt, and one of the suppliers provides the salt from a mine located in Detroit. There are concerns that companies with mines in Canada are undercutting the ability of the company mining in Detroit to supply road salt based on pricing. According to some, this activity could result in the mine's eventual closure. To address this, it has been suggested that products mined in Michigan receive preferential treatment for the purposes of state procurement.

In other words, one company isn’t able to offer a product as inexpensively or efficiently as its competitors, so it has sought the help of politicians to protect it from rivals.

Singling out one company for special treatment is bad policy and does nothing to improve the state’s economy. While the idea may save or add a few jobs at the Detroit Salt Company, it will cost many more throughout the state because of higher prices. It shifts spending from a more productive area to a less productive one, benefiting the few at the expense of the many.

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Though the bill flew through the Senate, applause is due to Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Mike Shirkey – the only two “no” votes. But a coalition of business groups, local governments, salt haulers and truckers, unions and conservative groups has come out strongly against it. That has helped it get bottled up in the House Commerce and Trade Committee, where it should stay indefinitely.

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Put ISD Funding on Education Budget Table

While agency spending grows, Guv seeks student-based cuts

Gov. Rick Snyder has pitted a generous increase in overall student funding against cuts to certain kinds of educational services some families prefer. But it doesn't have to be an either-or proposition; there are other options that could be put on the table.

In particular, one sacred cow has been left out of the conversation: intermediate school districts. These 56 regional agencies provide various services within their set boundaries. One common function ISDs have is to oversee special education. ISDs directly serve about 1 percent of the state's public school students, most of whom are children with individualized education plans designed to meet their special learning needs.

The governor insists that funding must be cut for students who opt into cyber schools (charter schools that provide students with online instruction) or shared-time programs, in order to provide a larger formula increase for all other students. His executive budget estimates that these cuts to tilt the playing field will save the state about $90 million altogether.

But a 5 percent reduction in overall ISD spending would get nearly the same effect, without even pushing the agencies back to 2014 spending levels. As a whole, these regional agencies are spending more money and hiring more personnel at a faster pace than the districts and charter schools that serve most students. It isn't clear why ISDs should continue to enjoy most of the state's education funding increases while some of the choices families make are put on the budgetary chopping block.

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These regional agencies depend far more on local property tax dollars than do conventional districts, yet a great deal of extra funding has come their way from the state treasury in recent years. Fiscal year 2017 saw state funding to ISDs increase from $829 million to $880 million. That kind of annual growth is typical. The amount of inflation-adjusted dollars shipped to ISDs has nearly doubled over the previous decade.

ISDs send on to local districts about 40 percent of the money they receive, and the amount of money they keep for themselves is on a steep upward track. Today, 10 percent of all Michigan K-12 public education expenditures are spent by ISDs. Adjusted for inflation and the number of students enrolled statewide, ISDs spent nearly 42 percent more in 2017 than in 2006.

From 2012 to 2017, ISD payrolls also increased from 15,400 to 17,400 full-time equivalent employees — representing a 13 percent growth — all while directly serving slightly fewer students. The number of special educators employed by ISDs hasn’t changed much; most new ISD employees are classified as instructional aides or support staff, but the number of administrative personnel has increased by almost 14 percent over that time.

At the very least, ISD officials should have to publicly demonstrate how their burgeoning budgets and payrolls are helping students achieve more. Funding these agencies should not be a priority over ensuring fair funding for programs that families and students clearly want.

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