Michiganders are willing to pay more in taxes as long as the funds support youth education, according to a recent poll.
Lake Research Partners conducted a poll on behalf of the Skillman Foundation that found 62 percent of Michiganders support increased funding for childhood education. The data were shared with attendees of the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference on Monday. It’s not unusual for the state’s most elite policy conference to involve discussions about future investments in education. However, it’s a rarity for education advocates to have data that show taxpayers across geographical locations are willing to foot the bill.
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“That’s something you don’t see very often,” Matt Gillard said of the statewide response to increase educational funds.
Gillard, president and CEO of Michigan’s Children, has long been an advocate of educational investments. The former state representative spent six years in Lansing and has presented at Mackinac on education initiatives in the past. Gillard said the poll data highlighted a “new attitude about the role of government moving forward.”
Historically, Michiganders have been “tax sensitive,” said Celinda Lake of Lake Research. Lake said the state has been divided on educational support depending on geographical location, which has carried on through political strife. Education initiatives for rural communities haven’t worked for more populated areas like Detroit with contrasting challenges. The state’s philanthropic network has been known to supplement public education efforts, or start their own, when state government was absent.
Though voters may say they are willing to pay higher taxes, that may prove difficult in Detroit.
City Council President Pro-Tem Mary Sheffield requested a report on Detroit’s millage rate earlier this year. The City’s Legislative Division found the millage rate to be “a hindrance to growth, home ownership, population retention and wealth generation for most Detroiters,” according to a February report. In fiscal year 2020 the property tax revenue for operating costs was $52,651,637, debt payoff for Detroit Public Schools at $63,745,168, and State Education at $23,909,798.
Detroit has the highest property tax millage rate among Michigan’s most populated cities, at 69.6 mills. The Grand Rapids millage rate is 34.8, the Ann Arbor rate is 48.9 mills, and the Flint rate is 51.1 mills. Even suburban cities like Sterling Heights and Dearborn have slightly lower rates, at 43.1 mills and 62.5 mills.
However, the highest millage rates in the state remain in southeast Michigan. Ecorse has the highest at 111.5, followed by 83.1 in Harper Woods.
Much of Detroit’s millage rate goes toward operational costs and education — which included debt payoff for the former Detroit Public Schools district.
But policy conference speakers said it’s more than money.
“What we do in the next 18 months will dictate the next century,” said Angelique Power, who just began her role as the new president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation. She moderated the discussion at the policy conference. She gleaned that nearly two-thirds of Michiganders would support an increase in funding for children and youth to counter inequities and the effects of pandemic-related ills.
Conference attendees like Jametta Lilly, CEO of Detroit Parent Network, and Dave Egner, president and CEO of The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, were listening, while asking about collaborative solutions that involved entire communities: from parents to teachers to afterschool workers.
Poll respondents said investments should be made in career and job training, mental health supports, programs that reduce youth in the criminal justice system, more affordable child care, and expanded learning time.