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Norbert Bufka

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Labor unions in Michigan

An essential component of any business operation, whether manufacturing or service, whether private or public, is the employee, whether there is only one or thousands.  Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations, the often quoted authority on capitalism, envisioned the employee an integral part of the business and must share in the wealth the company makes. George Lakoff, in his book, The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant, called employees “profit creators”. 

Employees created labor unions so they could secure some benefits through a process called collective bargaining. They were very successful over time through many legal and even bloody battles. These successes include a ban on child labor, a 40 hour work week, extra pay for overtime work,paid days off, unemployment compensation, disability benefits, health insurance benefits, and  retirement plans.  Today these are standard benefits in most employee agreements, whether the employee is in a union or not,.

Even though the owners are the ones who use their capital to start a business, they are not the only ones who take a risk in that business. The employee too is taking a risk in agreeing to work for a particular company. He or she is giving his time, energy, abilities, to the company and deserves recognition and compensation for those risks. In addition, his and his families current and future security rest on that employment.

There have been efforts in recent years to destroy unions based on the false argument that they are an impediment to the free exercise of the business owners. The most egregious example of this is the so-called Right to Work laws, which have been passed in 28 states, including Michigan in December 2012. These laws forbid a union to negotiate with the empoyer for the requirement that all who are covered under the union agreement make “payment of union dues, or fees as a condition of employment”. [i] They receive the benefits of the union but do not pay for them.  

Michigan has had a high percentage of employees belonging to unions, primarily because of the auto industry with hundreds of thousands of workers. The United Auto Workers Union gained respect and Many members through the sit-down strike in 1937 at General Motors plants in Michigan.

In 1989 union membership in Michigan was at its all time high of 26%.  it sank to its lowest in 2016 at 14.4%, but rose in 2017 to 15.6% (658,000), compared to 10.7% (14.8 million) nationally in 2016 and 2017.  Michigan’s rate has consistently been higher than the national. In 2017 another 53,000 workers in Michigan were represented by a union for benefits but not a union member. Nationally this number was  1.6 million. [ii]

We support employees and their right to organize a union. Union must be protected and encouraged. We recognize that some unions have fallen into the snares of greed and corruption. These must be curtailed so  that the original purpose of the union is paramount. Right to Work Laws must be repealed.  Benefits obtained by labor unions should not be diminished or taken away.


 Chart 1.  Members of unions as a percent of employed in the United States and Michigan, 2007-2017


This chart is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cited below.



[i] “Right to work laws”, Wikipedia,

[ii] “Union Members in Michigan — 2017”,  U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Shared time instruction in Michigan

Students in nonpublic schools and those who are homeschooled are eligible to take non-core classes at the local public school. Originally these were subjects like art, music, foreign languages, and gym but  the legislature has encouraged these programs as a way to offer choice and opportunities to more children. This shared time instruction, as it is called, has been expanded from nonpublic students in the local district to students in other districts, even across county line and the instruction is done right in the private school classroom by public school teachers, according to a report by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. . In 2017-2018 the cost is more than $133 million, about three times what it was just seven years ago, according to the Detroit Fre Press.. About 100,000students currently participate in shared time.

Local public school Districts, including Charter Schools, have taken advantage of this program by promoting instructional classes in private schools. They hired teachers who are not part of the regular school system, pay them less, and the teachers are not covered under the local district’s collective bargaining agreement. As a result the district has less cost per student and it becomes a money making program for the district.

Berkley School District, for example, has about 4,300 students and an operating budget of about $55 million. It has public school teachers working in about 40 private schools to 1,500 equivalent full time students. Berkley receives about $12 million for this program.  It needs only about 60% to meet all the expenses associated with shared time instruction, so it has a windfall of more than $4 million to spend on other programs.  Madison Academy charter school in Flint has more students in shared instruction than in its regular program, thus doubling its income, reported the Detroit Free Press. .

In 2018 Gov. Rick Snyder, who had been supportive, said “This program diverts resources from core instruction that improves student outcomes” and is calling for a cap on shared time of 5% of their regular student enrollment. Proponents say it is a good program providing benefits to student who would otherwise not get these benefits.

Shared time instruction would appear to be in keeping with the state’s goal of education for all, but it is part of the nationwide movement to destroy universal public education and support nonpublic schools. The teachers in share time are not part of the staff of the public school which hired them nor part of the staff of the nonpublic school. School districts are using them oney to fatten their budget rather than provide quality education in shared time instruction. We therefore support Gov. Snyder’s efforts to reign in this program.



“State Support of Nonpublic School Students”, Citizens Research Council of Michigan,  January 22, 2014.

Erin Einhorn, “Snyder takes aim at program steering public money to private schools”, Detroit Free Press, April 9, 2018.


School safety

School safety in my youth were mundane concerns compared to the safety issue today. School shootings occur far more frequently in the United States than anywhere else in the world. When combined with other mass shootings, eleven of the worst 50 mass shootings were in the United States.  We have only 4.4% of the world population but 22% of themass shootings.

After the shooting at Marjorie Stone and Douglas High School in Parkland Florida an Interdisciplinary Group for Preventing School and Cmmunity Violence at the University of Virginia has prepared a Call for Action to Prevent Gun violent in the United States  of America. Anya Kamanetz

NPR reported that “About 200 universities, national education and mental health groups, school districts, and more than 2,300 individual experts have signed on to support this document in the weeks since” .

The documents says, “Although security measures are important, a focus on simply preparing for shootings is insufficient. We need a change in mindset and policy from reaction to prevention. Prevention entails more than security measures    and begins long before a gunman comes to school. We need a comprehensive public health approach to gun violence that is informed by scientific evidence and free from partisan politics.”

The Call for Action revolves around three levels of action: preparing a safe place, protecting those who are at risk, and intervening when violence is a threat. The eight steps are:

  1. Initiate a national review of school safety to insure safety from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

  2. A “ban on assault-style weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips, and products that modify semi-automatic firearms to enable them to function like automatic firearms.”

  3. Adequate support staff of psychologists, social workers, and others.

  4. foster positive social, behavioral, emotional, and academic success.

  5. Universal background checks.

  6. Develop threat assessment teams.

  7. Removal of barriers that keep professionals from sharing at risk behaviors with others.

  8. Gun violence protection orders.

We support the Call for Action.




Schools of choice

“Schools of choice” refers to an effort to give students a choice in the school they attend. One way, allowed in Michigan, is to let students choose a different public school than the neighborhood school. This program also allows students to go to another public school district if that other district will accept them.  Two other schools of choice are Charter Schools and homeschooling (see separate issue briefs.)

Vouchers give students tax dollars to attend the school of their choice, including  nonpublic schools, but in Michigan and many other states state tax dollars cannot go to a nonpublic school. In 2001 a proposal to amend the Michigan constitution to allow vouchers was defeated by a large majority of 68’%. The leader of this movement was Betsy DeVos, now Secretary of the U. S. Department of Education. After this defeat in Michigan the DeVos family took their plans to other states through the American Federation for children, which they founded in 2010. 

Variations of the voucher plan includes setting up education savings account, which are funded either by business leaders with and without tax credits, and genral fund tax dollars. Some vouchers based the dollars a pupil receives on the family income.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have a voucher in place.

Evaluation and recommendations

The school choice program within the public school system sounds good on paper but it exists only in districts where there is more than one public elementary, middle, or high school in the district. It is also only a choice when the parents have the resources to provide transportation to the school of choice, so it sounds good on paper but doesn’t work well in reality.

Some of the oldest voucher plans are in Milwaukee and Cleveland, where the results are unimpressive, according to Larry Miller, a teacher in Milwaukee for 17 years and a member    of the Milwaukee School Board. [a]

Proponents of school choice appear to be supportive of better education and schools for all children, but their intention is to dismantle and destroy public schools by fragmentation and privatization. We will be served far better to put our efforts into improving the public schools through better teacher training, more funding and resources, and common goals based on the traditional American value of equality.





[a] Larry Miller, “Who is the American Federation for Children? “, Educate All Students, April 4, 2014.

Nonpublic schools in Michigan

A nonpublic school is any school financed and supported by an entity other than the government, although they may receive some tax dollars for special programs. 

48% of the nonpublic schools are Catholic with enrolment of 54,221 pupils. Others are Christian schools, 13 percent (14,385); Lutheran, 11 percent (12,647); secular, 11 percent (12,322); unaffiliated religious, 11 percent (12,211); Baptist, 3 percent (3,168); Jewish, 2 percent (2,204) and Seventh Day Adventist, 1 percent (1,606). Since nonpublic schools are not required to report to the state the above are estimates. In 2014 it is estimated that was 165,487 in over 600 schools, but only 113,332 were reported to the state. [a]

The Michigan Department of Education says that nonpublic schools must comply with the state regulations regarding attendance, curriculum, building and health codes, and vaccinations, but not days of attendance or curriculum. 90% are religiously affiliated, about 13% higher than the national average. [b] They are not required to file records with the state of Michigan. State funding is prohibited by the Michigan Constitution, although Nonpublic schools are eligible for federal tax dollars but in order to receive them they must report to the State of Michigan.[c]

We believe that the state and nonpublic schools have a good relationship and we fully support the state requirements for high standards in the nonpublic schools. There are more requirements for nonpublic schools than the Charter Schools, which do receive tax dollars..








[a] Julie Mack, “Private schools enroll 9% of Michigan students and other facts on nonpublic school”, MLive, January 26,2016.

[b] Ibid.

[c]  “Nonpublic and Home School Information 2016-2017”, Michigan Department of Education.


Homeschooling in Michigan

All fifty states allow parents to homeschool their children. Michigan is one of eleven states who does not require parents to register their children with the local school district or the state, so it is estimated that more than 50,000 children in Michigan are being homeschooled. [a]

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) website says that “the parent assigns homework, gives tests and grades these tests. The issuance of report cards, transcripts, and diplomas are the responsibility of the home school family (based on internal standards). If home schooling continues through grade 12, the parent issues a high school diploma to the graduate.” [b]

Parents are not required to report to the Michigan Department of Education, “unless the student is requesting eligible special education services from the local public school or intermediate school district” nor is it “required that a parent inform their local school of the decision to home school.”  Failure to do so however may result in truancy violations.[c]

 “Instruction must include mathematics, reading, English, science, and social studies in all grades; and the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of Michigan, and the history and present form of civil government of the United States, the State of Michigan, and the political subdivisions and municipalities of the State of Michigan in grades 10, 11, and 12.

“Home-schooled students may enroll in nonessential elective classes at the resident public school subject to the district's enrollment policy,” says the MDE.

Curriculum, text books and instructional materials are the sole responsibility of the parent.

If a homeschool student enrolls in a public or nonpublic school at some point, “the granting of credits and placement of students is solely determined by the receiving school,”  according to the MDE.

The parent is not required to test their student’s progress, although they may participate at no cost in tests sponsored by the MDE.

Participation in athletics at the local public school is at the discretion of the local school district and is not governed by state law.

The MDE says that  some auxiliary services maybe available to home schools under federal programs but to receive these, the home school must annually complete the Nonpublic School Membership Report.

Studies done by groups that support homeschooling show very good results in many cases. Many homeschooled students do well in college, but there are no comprehensive objective studies done. .We believe that standards must be set by the MDE for homeschools, especially in regard to traditional American values and history.



[a] Julie Mack, “Private schools enroll 9% of Michigan students and other facts on nonpublic school”, MLive, January 26, 2016.

[b] “Nonpublic and Home School Information 2016-2017”, Michigan Department of Education.

[c] “Homeschooling in Michigan,” Michigan Department of Education.

Funding of public schools in Michigan

Traditionally local public schools were supported by local property taxes, with voter approval. This reliance onproperty taxes produced very different funding from district to district. In 1993 Proposal A allowed the state to collect property taxes on residential property and distribute them more evenly.   Taxes on non-residential property, set at 18 mills,  remained local. This was set at 18 mills across the state and is the local part of the foundational allowance. The rest comes from a six mill property tax on residences, some of the sales tax, tax on cigarettes, real estate transfer tax, the lottery and the general fund. The state legislature decides on the amount of the foundational allowance and the amount is reduced by the amount collected locally from the 18 mills on nonresidential property.  For example, District A has 1,000 students and a foundation allowance of $7,000 per pupil for a total of $7,000,000. The local 18 mills generates $2,000,000, which is subtracted from the total allowance, leaving the state to pay $5,000,000. [i]

In addition to the per-pupil Foundation Allowance, districts also receive funding for special situations. These are not guaranteed and can vary from year to year much more than the foundational allowance. School districts also receive reimbursement for special education costs and some federal funds earmarked for special programs.


The goal in funding education must be the education of all our pupils, including especially those who are at risk and have needs based on poverty and low-income families.  The foundational allowance must be raised and made part of long range planning so districts do not have to engage in a cycle of starting and canceling programs.

In 2018 the School Finance Research Collaborative called for a foundational allowance of $9,590 with additional money for districts with special circumstances. For example, a rural district has much higher transportation costs than an urban district. [ii]  


We must adopt a policy of school district consolidation so that a district is large enough to provide the varied curriculum that is needed for today’s pupils in our technological society and economy. This could also reduce the cost of education.

Schools are the lifeblood of a healthy Michigan future. Their funding must not be left up to the whims of our state legislature and governor. John Austin, former Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction, wrote that Michigan must change the way it finances schools to provide the resources needed to meet the very different learning needs of every student, and “Bring quality and performance to the educational chaos”. [iii]




[i]  “History Of School Funding in Michigan” Saline Finance Blog, May 13, 2013.

[ii] Michael Gerstein, The Detroit NewsPublished 12:31 p.m. ET Jan. 17, 2018

[iii] John Austin, “Michigan’s future at stake in fixing public education”,

Bridge, October 31, 2017


Charter Schools in Michigan

In 1993 the Michigan legislature authorized the establishment of Public School Academies, commonly called Charter Schools. One Charter School was set up that year and the total mushroomed to 302 in 2016-2017. The number declined to 294 in 2017-2018. [a]

Public Authorizing bodies approve and oversee Charter Schools and are the only bodies which can end a Charter School. These bodies receive 3% of the tax dollars allocated for student instruction.  This 3% amounted to$ 33 million in 2016-2017.

Charter Schools can contract with outside agencies to operate the school. In 2017 80% of these operating agencies are for profit.  No law regulates the contract between the Charter School board and the operating agency.

Charter Schools must comply with all the standards of traditional public schools and suudents are assessed by the state. Teachers are not covered under the local bargaining agreement and awre not required to join a nunion. They are not part of the state teachers retirement system.

There are two additional requirements stated in law for a Charter School. Teachers must be “highly qualified” as defined in the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and there must be  students in the lowest 5% achievement in the area of the Charter School.  [b]

Evaluation and recommendations

In many cases Charter Schools are peforming worse than their local school from which they get their students.  David Zeman at the Education Trust-Midwest  [c] reported that  in 2016 half of the operators of Charter Schools in Detroit were allowed to continue and even open new schools, even though their performance on state tests was at or below that of the Detroit Public Schools. 

In 2013, Zeman reported, that among the worst is Leona Group, L.L.C., a for-profit operator based in Arizona, which operated 26 schools in Michigan in 2013. Students performed worse at its Cesar Chavez Academy in Southwest Detroit, on reading in the MEAP 2012 than Detroit Public Schools.he gave many other examples, yet all of these operators were allowed to open new Charter Schools.

The Education Trust Midwest reported that  in 2013 about one quarter of the Charter Schools authorized by Northern Michigan University (NMU), Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) – “ranked among the worst performing 10 percent of schools statewide.”  These schools enrolled about 19,000 students. [d]

With these poor performance records, we recommend the following:

  1. Authorizing bodies must be held accountable for the schools they sponsor by terminating their authorizing authority.

  2. Operating bodies must be held accountable for their performance by putting them on probation for poor performance, then if that continues terminating their Charter.

  3. Operating agencies must be non-profit.



[a] “Five new charter schools Opening in Michigan”,September 2017.


“charter schools”, Michigan Department of Education,,4615,7-140-6530_30334_40088---,00.html.

[c] David Zeman, “Failing charter operators keep expanding in Michigan”, Education Trust-Midwest, May 23, 2013.

[d] “Accountability for all the Broken Promise of Michigan charter Sector”,  The Education Trust Midwest , 2016,

pre-K through 12th grade education in Michigan

Public schools have been a priority in Michigan from the earliest days. They hav aspired to high standards. As the state grew and our country advanced control of schools shifted from over 7,000 small local districts to 540 K-12 districts today. There are 54 intermediate school districts, which provide help for special needs. Funding has shifted from mostly local property taxes to state funding.

Student enrollment in public schools peaked in1971-72 at 2,212,505 and has declined to 1,507,743 in 2015. Michigan Has always required teacher certification, school attendance, curriculum guidelines, days and hours of instruction. Today it requires compulsory attendance to age 18, 180 days of schooling, 1098 hours of instruction, and   a model core curriculum.

There are 294 Charter Schools in Michigan. They must comply with all the standards of traditional public schools and suudents are assessed by the state. They receive the same foundational allowance per pupil as the local public school.

Nonpublic schools must comply with the state regulations regarding attendance, curriculum, building and health codes, and vaccinations, but not days of attendance or curriculum. [a]  In 2014 it is estimated that nonpublic school enrollment was 165,487 in over 600 schools. [b]  They are forbidden by the Michigan Constitution to receive state tax dollars.

Michigan law gives parents and legal guardians the right to homeschool their children. There are subject requirements, but the curriculum and selection of texts are the right of the parent. No records are required to be kept or filed with the state.[c]  It is believed that there are about 50,000 students in Michigan being homeschooled. [d] They do not receive state tax dollars.

Evaluation and recommendations

For the past two decades we have witnessed declining performance results on standardized tests in reading, math, and science. These are not across the board but often enough to indicate there is much to be concerned about. Amazon decided in January 2018 not to locate their second headquarters in Detroit because of our poor schools. [e] Business leaders for Michigan   (BLM) reported that “The Amazon decision should rally us to work harder, much harder, to produce the talent we need to create good jobs.” BLM rank Michigan “30th in overall educational attainment.” [f][g]

In many cases Charter Schools are peforming worse than their local school from which they get their students.  There is virtually no standards for homeschooling and no effective way to evaluate those pupils. Charter Schools and homeschooling are unnecessary fragmentation of the educational system. Both must be held to higher standards.

We also must recognize that some pupils for various reasons have greater needs than average and

The Michigan Department of Education and the Legislature must take seriously the reports of School Finance Research Collaborative.

A high quality education is important for the citizens of Michigan so they can make responsible decisions at home, get a good job in Michigan, and vote responsibly



[a] “Nonpublic and Home School Information 2016-2017”, Michigan Department of Education.

[b] Julie Mack, “Private schools enroll 9% of Michigan students and other facts on nonpublic school”, MLive, January 26, 2016.

[c] Ibid.

[d] Ibid.

[e] Phil Power, “Amazon to Michigan: Fix your Schools!”, Bridge Magazine, January 23, 2018.

[g] Ibid.

Best of times, worst of times

Charles Dickins began A Tale of Two Cities with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This is a good way to describe our current political life in the United States. Democracy is alive and well in this ongoing experiment in self-government begun in 1776. Women are gathering in protest not seen for nearly 100 years. Voters are coming out in record numbers in the special elections that have taken place since the election of Donal Trump as president.,Trump's corruption is being investigated in a legal process.

Donald Trump is the worst President in my lifetime. I wrote before the election on October 2, 2016 that he was unfit for office because he is a bully, lacks intellectual curiosity and knowledge, cannot maintain attention to anything more than a fewm minutes, and has total disregard for the meaning of words. He lies constantly. His time in office has proven beyond a doubt the truth of my words in 2016.

Let’s keep the momentum going through the elections in November and elect responsible people who are concerned about the genral welfare of our country. . 

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