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Appropriate? Mich. School Students Write Letters to Gov. During Class Time About Budget Cuts

“Don’t bring politics into the school and use the kids as pawns."

Like many schools throughout the state of Michigan -- and around the country for that matter -- Walled Lake Consolidated School District in Oakland County, Mich., has suffered budget cuts. With that it has called upon parents of its students to write letters to legislators and Gov. Rick Snyder's office in protest of the cuts -- but parents aren't the only ones doing the letter writing.

According to Michigan Capitol Confidential, a news service from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, elementary school students spent class time writing letters voicing their dissent over the cuts to the elected officials -- and some parent's aren't happy:

Walled Lake parent Ernie Hughes said he didn’t think the assignment was appropriate.

“Don’t bring politics into the school and use the kids as pawns,” Hughes said.

Michigan Capitol Confidential has more on the letter writing, which was confirmed by the school on Thursday:

The students were told the best letters would be forwarded to the governor. One parent said the teachers prepped the students with what the budget cuts entailed because some weren’t aware. Students also were asked to speak in front of their classmates about why they didn’t like the budget cuts.

Parents' weren't the only ones disagreeing with the use of classtime to write such letters:

District Spokesman Judy Evola said in an email it wasn’t appropriate for the elementary age students to write the letters.

“The District neither supports this writing assignment or believes it was age appropriate for elementary students," she said. "Further, Walled Lake Schools does not blame the governor for the decisions to cut positions and programs in the district for the current year or for the past five years.”

[...]

“It’s completely inappropriate to use students in this way,” [Michael Van Beek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy,] wrote in an e-mail. “But if teachers are going to force them to write letters, maybe they should address those letters to union bosses and school board members who maintain and defend an unsustainable cost structure that forces schools to reduce the level of services they can provide to students and taxpayers.”

Here are a few comments on the article:

The Michigan Capitol Confidential reports that the school district did have to layoff some teachers due to the budget cuts but Evola is reported as saying the school is committed to "living within our means." Still, as the publication points out, the school's website says that cutting funding is "not acceptable" and that the district will be taking action "either by calling or emailing" to protest current and prevent proposed cuts.

At the same time, Snyder announced earlier this week that with some surplus state money, he wants schools to compete for more funding -- a growing trend -- based on performance.

With Michigan heading into a new budget year without the chronic deficits that plagued it for the past 10 years, Snyder wants to reward schools for how well they educate, not for merely having the best and brightest students. Several states have tied financial incentives to standardized test scores, but Snyder's plan is somewhat different.

"This year we had a surplus, so we had a lot of requests for funding," Snyder said. "But good budgeting isn't about taking that surplus and giving everyone a little bit more money ... (it's about) rewarding success and results."

While critics praised Snyder for spending more on education, they argued his plan leaves schools without the resources to make the improvements he wants.

"Any money that will be funneled back to our schools is, of course, a step in the right direction," said state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, the top Democrat on an education spending subcommittee. "However, these funds will only provide the bare minimum in restoring the drastic and unnecessary attack on our children's education that left our schools to increase class sizes and without money for books, teaching materials and support staff."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Do you think students should be allowed to use class time to write letters to legislative officials?

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