Snyder Not Advocating Penalizing Schools for New Union Contracts

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The debate over education funding in Michigan has turned into a secondary scuffle over the state's new right-to-work law. The Associated Press and other media outlets reported on Wednesday that the state's Senate and Gov. Rick Snyder are at odds with its House of Representatives over whether or not universities should be punished if they signed new union contracts just before the right-to-work law went into effect at the end of March.

Several of the state's largest colleges, including Wayne State University, have been accused of pushing through new union contracts before the right-to-work law went into effect as a way to thwart the law for several more years. Any contract signed before the law went into effect is exempt from it.

Here is some of the key information that emerged on Wednesday regarding the Michigan Legislature's struggle over education funding.

* Michigan's right-to-work law stipulates that a union cannot make the collection of union dues mandatory in order to ensure union representation. That means, that a person who works in a union-represented occupation cannot be required to pay union dues as a condition of their employment, yet will still be represented by the union that oversees their job position.

* Universities are not the only entities being scrutinized for signing new contracts, however. Some local school districts and communities have been accused of pushing through new contracts to avoid the right-to-work law as well.

* The state House Appropriations Committee, led by House Republicans, wants to punish those that signed contracts just before Michigan's right-to-work law went into effect by instituting a 15 percent funding penalty for universities, as well as taking away grants for some public school districts and enacting a funding freeze on community colleges that would prevent them from getting any increased funding for the new fiscal year, according to reports by the Detroit Free Press and other media outlets.

* The penalties were part of the state House of Representatives' omnibus education bill. House Democrats reportedly tried to remove the language from the bill that contained the penalties on grounds that it was "a large overreach" of the Legislature's powers, according to Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores. Roberts also told the Detroit Free Press that putting penalties into the education bill was an attempt "to meddle into the institutions' business."

* State House Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, maintained that the penalties were necessary to protect taxpayers' interest.

* The state Senate Appropriations Committee passed their own education bill on Wednesday that did not contain language penalizing universities and school districts that had recently signed new contracts.

* The Detroit News noted that both Senate Republicans and Snyder have now urged House Republicans to give up the fight to penalize universities and school districts over their new contracts. Snyder reportedly told the media on Wednesday that he was not interested in penalizing communities and institutions for signing new contracts between Dec. 10 and Mar. 28, the window that House Republicans have targeted, as many of those contracts "came up through routine negotiations."

Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in politics and public issues.

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