GUEST EDITORIAL: Education rift will test Gov. Snyder’s power

For the first time since he took office in 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder seems to be facing real opposition in Lansing. But it’s not from Democrats.

It’s from within his own party, the GOP, whose representatives — particularly in the House caucus — have a much more conservative bent and have put forward an agenda that doesn’t look much like the governor’s.

So this week, they began to flex a little muscle by having an education subcommittee strip nearly everything the governor wants out of the proposed 2015-16 education budget. They took out money to enhance third-grade reading. They took out extra cash for adult education and at-risk school districts such as Detroit.

Instead, they want to hand a little more cash to all districts across the state — and let them decide on their own how to spend it.

What’s interesting about this move is that it’s not all wrong-headed. There are strong arguments to be made about the ability of individual school districts to prioritize how they spend money. More freedom at the local level isn’t an awful idea at all.

But the split with the governor over money for targeted, sensible program improvements is disturbing — and puzzling.

For starters, Michigan has a crisis in third-grade reading, with tens of thousands unable to meet minimum standards. A year ago, a lawmaker introduced legislation that would have held many such students back; the governor’s budget this year aimed to address the problem through more constructive means.

It’s also true that the other adds in the governor’s budget are targeted at needy areas. Michigan isn’t competing well, nationally, in any number of education categories. More funding isn’t the only thing needed to move the needle, but it’s a start, and non-negotiable in many cases.

The House subcommittee’s move could be in league with other items on the House caucus agenda — aimed at making the argument against more funding. Or it could just be about tweaking the governor, showing him that they’re in charge.

But this is no place to play idle politics.

As always, subcommittee votes are preliminary, and huge parts of the education bill will change before it reaches the House floor for a final vote. It’s also March, and the budget discussions won’t really heat up until later in the spring.

Still, the governor may have a burgeoning problem on his hands. Certainly, it is new territory for an executive who came to power with his party firmly in control of both houses of the Legislature.

The battle within the Republican Party — for control, for ideological raison, for political momentum — may well be Snyder’s greatest challenge. He doesn’t like to make deals. He doesn’t hold the kind of power that someone like former GOP Gov. John Engler could wield over errant legislators.

So what will he do?

The stakes are high, and the outcome uncertain, as we head full steam into the budget season.

This editorial originally appeared in the March 27, edition of the Detroit Free Press.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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