by Félix Pérez
Michigan intends to appeal a court ruling that held the state owes public school employees additional interest on more than $550 million in earnings illegally withheld from them by the state.
The appeal is the state’s latest obstacle in a lawsuit brought in 2010 by the Michigan Education Association and other labor groups on behalf of 200,000 school employees who had three percent of their wages taken between July 2010 and January 2013 to cover retiree health-care costs. In December 2017, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court’s ruling that the state illegally deducted the money from the paychecks of Michigan public school employees.
While the decision to contest the interest payment comes from Gov. Rick Snyder, the fingerprints of gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette remain indelibly etched on the long-running lawsuit. Schuette, the state attorney general, fought in court for six years every effort to return the more than half a billion dollars taken from teachers and school staff.
Schuette flip flopped on his position before the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the appellate court ruling in December 2017. Immediately following the court’s ruling, Schuette’s communications director tweeted that Schuette “strongly agrees” with the decision.
Macomb County music teacher and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart called on the state not to pursue any appeal.
Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette shouldn’t even contemplate appealing this ruling and must expedite payment of money owed to the hard-working school employees of our state.
Schuette’s election season conversion will likely come with a hefty price in November. His opponent, Gretchen Whitmer, voted against the law to allow the state to take three percent of school employees’ pay. Whitmer, the granddaughter of educators, described Snyder and Schuette’s multiple appeals of lower court rulings as part of a political philosophy: “Wear the little guy down, and then you can do anything you want.”
The “three percent” lawsuit is not the only significant issue on which Whitmer and Schuette disagree.
Schuette is a longtime ally of Betsy DeVos. Since 2010, the DeVos family and DeVos organizations contributed at least $176,800 to Schuette’s campaigns. Schuette, like DeVos, supports charter schools and school vouchers. “I share her philosophy of more choices more options, scholarships, what have you. . . ,” wrote Schuette in an editorial.
Whitmer, on the other hand, wants to rein in unaccountable charter schools, part of DeVos’s legacy of failure in her home state of Michigan. “For-profit companies have broken our education system. We cannot continue to let Michigan’s charter schools fail our kids. It’s time we put much-needed oversight in place to hold charter schools accountable…” She continued, “Right now, we’re not doing enough for the kids of this state, and let me be clear, it is not the fault of the heroes on the front line every single day,” she said. “It’s because our leaders in Lansing have undermined local control, they’ve undervalued education through budget cuts and they’ve underappreciated the educators and support staff in our schools.”