A disagreement over education funding is the latest topic pitting Democrat Gretchen Driskell verses Republican Mark Ouimet in the hotly contested race for the 52nd District Michigan House of Representatives.
Driskell, the current mayor of Saline, held a press conference Tuesday to highlight the issue.
“I want every child in Washtenaw County to get a great education, but that will only happen if we invest in our schools,” Driskell said.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Saline schools employee Kimberly Van Hoek attended the conference to support Driskell. Irwin, Hoek and Driskell agree that companies that create high-paying jobs want to locate in places that they can find well-educated workers.
Driskell demanded the restoration of funding for Michigan public schools, colleges and universities.
“Michigan’s economic turnaround can only be assured if our kids are prepared to compete for 21st century jobs,” she said. “Other sources of revenue should be found rather than cutting from schools.”
Driskell said Michigan Republicans are directly responsible for cutting $1 billion in K-12 funding, as well as a 15 percent cut to higher education. Driskell said the cuts led to millions of dollars in budget shortfalls in several school districts and that incumbent Ouimet is partially responsible as he voted in favor of the cuts.
Ouimet said Driskell is wrong, saying that cuts were not made by the state of Michigan, but rather by the federal government. Ouimet said schools felt the pain because after the federal government cut funding, the state did not pick up the slack.
“Did Saline schools get less money? Yes,” Ouimet said. “Did they get less money from the state? No.”
Ouimet said he did not vote on school funding alone, but rather on a budget package that included taking steps to balance a $1.5 billion deficit created by a past administration.
Ouimet acknowledged that the budget he favored included a 15 percent cut to higher education.
“By federal law, we have to balance the state budget,” he said. “Do I want to make cuts? No. I want the federal government to live up to their obligations.”
Ouimet said Republicans have been very supportive of education, and that lawmakers have approved additional funding in the 2012-2013 budget.
“It was passed through the House (of Representatives) to increase state funding to bring school funding back to levels before the federal government made the cuts," he said.
Driskell also said Republicans took money away from school districts to fund tax breaks for the biggest corporations in the state, resulting in school closings, large scale teacher layoffs and cuts to transportation and basic supplies, such as textbooks.
Ouiment took issue with comments made by Driskell regarding large corporations getting tax breaks.
“Large corporations did not get a tax break,” he Ouimet. “It was small LLC companies that got the tax break.”
Both candidates agreed that higher education needs to be affordable to Michigan residents.