Toxic Terrain

Trump Wins Michigan with Slightly Greater Support in Rural Areas and Suburbs

Donald Trump won the Michigan primary with widespread support across the state, with slightly higher margins in rural areas and the suburbs of metropolitan areas, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.

The results were a soft echo of former President Trump’s performance in the South Carolina primary on Saturday, in which he polled strongest among suburban and rural voters.

In Michigan, Trump defeated former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley by 3 to 1 (77% to 23%) in the state’s 50 rural (nonmetropolitan) counties. These voters represented 25% of the turnout in Tuesday’s primary.

He did nearly as well in the state’s small metropolitan areas, which include eight counties and 12% of the turnout. Cities in these small metropolitan areas are Battle Creek, Jackson, Midland, Monroe, Muskegon, Saginaw, Bay City, and Nile-Benton Harbor.

Trump also received over 70% of the two-candidate vote in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas (Detroit and Grand Rapids) and medium-sized metropolitan areas (Lansing, Flint, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and South Bend, Indiana). 

Voters in the Grand Rapids and Detroit metropolitan areas constituted nearly two-thirds of the turnout. Voters in small metropolitan areas were 12% of the electorate on Tuesday.

Definitions

The Daily Yonder analysis uses the 2013 Office of Management and Budget Metropolitan Statistical Areas to define rural.

  • We define counties that are not located within a metropolitan area as rural. Under the OMB’s 2013 system, nonmetropolitan counties don’t have a city of 50,000 or greater and don’t have close economic ties to a county that does have a city of 50,000 or greater.
  • Major metropolitan suburbs are the outlying counties of metros with a population of over 1 million.
  • Medium-sized metropolitan core counties are the central counties of metros with a population of 250,000 to under 1 million.
  • Medium-sized metropolitan suburbs are the outlying counties of metros with a population of 250,000 to under 1 million. 
  • Small metropolitan areas include all counties in metros of fewer than 250,000 residents.

The post Trump Wins Michigan with Slightly Greater Support in Rural Areas and Suburbs appeared first on The Daily Yonder.

Wisconsin governor’s 400-year veto angers opponents in state with long history of creative cuts

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Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit and nonpartisan newsroom. Subscribe to our newsletter to get our investigative stories and Friday news roundup. This story is published in partnership with The Associated Press and includes localized reporting from Wisconsin Watch.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ partial veto that attempts to lock in a school funding increase for 400 years drew outrage and surprise from his political opponents, but it’s just the latest creative cut in a state that’s home to the most powerful partial gubernatorial veto in the country.

“Everybody will shout and scream,” said former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, “but he’s got ’em.”

Wisconsin governors have the most expansive partial veto power in the country because, unlike in other states, they can strike nearly any part of a budget bill. That includes wiping out numbers, punctuation and words in spending bills to sometimes create new law that wasn’t the intention of the Legislature.

That’s exactly what the Democratic Evers did on Wednesday with a two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Legislature had language in the budget increasing the per pupil spending authority for K-12 public schools by $325 in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years. Evers, a former state education secretary and public school teacher and administrator before that, vetoed the “20” and the hyphen to make the end date 2425.

The change means that until a future Legislature and governor undo it, the amount schools can spend through a combination of property taxes and state aid will increase by $325 annually until 2425. That’s farther in the future — 402 years — than the United States has been a country — 247 years.

“It’s creative for sure,” said Bill McCoshen, a lobbyist who previously worked under former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Creative, but not unprecedented.

Reshaping state budgets through the partial veto is a longstanding act of gamesmanship in Wisconsin between the governor and Legislature, as lawmakers try to craft bills in a way that are largely immune from creative vetoes. Vetoes, even the most outlandish, are almost never overridden because it takes a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to do it.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, during a Thursday interview on WISN-AM, vowed to try, though he admitted it would be difficult.

Vos called Evers’ 400-year veto “an unprecedented brand-new way to screw the taxpayer … that was never imagined by a previous governor and certainly wouldn’t by anybody who thinks there is a fair process in Wisconsin.”

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2017 used his veto power to extend the deadline of a state program program from 2018 to 3018. That came to be known as the “thousand-year veto.” He also delayed the start date of another program by 60 years.

The Republican Thompson was known for his use of the “Vanna White” veto, named for the co-host of Wheel of Fortune who flips letters to reveal word phrases. Thompson holds the record for the most partial vetoes by any governor in a single year — 457 in 1991. Evers this year made 51.

Wisconsin’s partial veto is uniquely powerful because it allows the governor to change the intent of the Legislature, just as Evers did, said Kristoffer Shields, director of the Center on the American Governor at Rutgers University. Shields said he plans to cite the latest Evers veto when teaching about executive power.

“Many people in Wisconsin, I suspect, are surprised that the governor can do this,” Shields said. “And now that we know he can do this, that can lead to changes.”

Wisconsin’s partial veto power was created by a 1930 constitutional amendment, but it’s been weakened over the years, including in reaction to vetoes made by Thompson and Doyle.

Voters adopted a constitutional amendments in 1990 and 2008 that took away the ability to strike individual letters to make new words — the “Vanna White” veto — and eliminated the power to eliminate words and numbers in two or more sentences to create a new sentence — the “Frankenstein” veto. Numerous court decisions have also narrowed the veto power.

Rick Esenberg, director of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said he expected there to be a legal challenge to Evers’ 400-year veto.

“This is just a ridiculous way to make law,” Esenberg said.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with Esenberg’s group and undid three of Evers’ partial vetoes in 2020, but a majority of justices did not issue clear guidance on what was allowed. Two justices did say that partial vetoes can’t be used to create new policies. In August, the court flips from conservative to liberal control. That further clouds how it may rule on veto power, an issue that over the decades has drawn bipartisan support and criticism.

Even as questions about the legality of the veto swirl, conservatives are trying to benefit politically by arguing that the ever-increasing spending authority Evers enacted will open the door to higher property taxes.

“The veto would allow property taxes to skyrocket over the next 400 years,” Republican Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August said in a statement. “Taxpayers need to remember this when getting their tax bills this December.”

But Doyle, the former Democratic governor who issued nearly 400 partial vetoes over eight years, praised Evers for effectively restoring an automatic increase in school spending authority that had been in place starting in the 1990s. Doyle’s successor, Walker, and the GOP-controlled Legislature removed it.

“What Governor Evers did was masterful and really important and something that everybody should have expected him to do,” Doyle said. “I’m sure they’re kicking themselves over why they didn’t they see this little number thing.”

Wisconsin governor’s 400-year veto angers opponents in state with long history of creative cuts is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.

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How the promise of free college doesn’t always help low-income students

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced proudly in August that 100,000 people had applied for her state’s free college program, Michigan Reconnect.

The program, which covers community college tuition for Michigan residents age 25 or older to get them to go back to school, is “a game-changer,” Whitmer said, “not only for the people enrolled in the program, but also for their families, small businesses and the state.”

More than 24,000 of those applicants have enrolled in the program, and 2,000 have completed a degree or a certificate, the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity says. It’s part of a wave of 32 such “free college” programs nationwide, according to the Campaign for Free College Tuition — a third of them added in the last five years.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks about Michigan Reconnects, a program that covers community college tuition for residents returning to school. Like many other “free-college” programs, however, it only kicks in after federal financial aid has been maxed out, helping higher-income more than lower-income students. Credit: David Eggert/The Associated Press

But there’s a hitch. Most statewide programs, including Michigan’s, don’t necessarily help the lowest-income students finish or pay for college.

Many cover only the tuition that is still outstanding after federal aid is used up. These are called “last-dollar” free college programs. Since federal aid to the lowest-income students — usually in the form of Pell Grants — almost always covers the full cost of community college tuition, low-income students don’t benefit, while higher-income students do.

Despite a perception that free college programs are meant for lower-income students, “the only students who would qualify are students who aren’t eligible for Pell — wealthier students,” said Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education policy at the Education Trust. “These become messaging bills a lot of the time,” he said of the preponderance of free college legislation.

What low-income students really need is help with other expenses, such as housing, books and transportation — things free college programs don’t often cover. Those essentials account for about 80 percent of the cost of attending community college, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Free college often is “a false promise,” Del Pilar said. “I don’t think equity is at the heart of these programs, because if it was, they would be designed a bit differently than what we see.”

Related: Bachelor’s degree dreams of community college students get stymied by red tape — and it’s getting worse

Now a handful of states are trying something different. They’re launching “first-dollar” programs, in which money from the state can be applied first to tuition. That means low-income students can use their Pell Grants and other federal aid for all those other costs of college.

This can be a hard sell to legislators, since not all politicians think taxpayers should be on the hook for students’ room and board. Some researchers, including those at the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, estimate that these first-dollar programs can be at least  twice as expensive to implement as last-dollar ones.

“All things being equal we prefer first-dollar programs” said Ryan Morgan, chief executive of the Campaign for Free College Tuition. But it can be tough to win bipartisan support. “There are political realities to paying for students’ meals and housing.”

Many state “free tuition” programs cover only the tuition that is still outstanding after federal aid is used up. This means lower-income students don’t benefit as much as higher-income students do. Credit: Sam Wasson/Getty Images

Some states are trying to do it anyway. New Mexico in the fall launched its Opportunity Scholarship, one of the most generous such programs in the country. It covers full tuition at two- and four-year public colleges and universities, before — instead of after — federal aid kicks in. (The state uses the term “middle-dollar” to describe its scholarship because other state money is applied first.)

The Opportunity Scholarship will cost more than $100 million to operate this year, said Stephanie Rodriguez, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Higher Education, and the governor’s office asked for more than $157 million to cover it next year. Part of that increase is because it’s been so popular, helping boost enrollment at New Mexico public universities and colleges by 4 percent in the last year. Some 34,000 students received the scholarship this fall.

But Rodriguez said the investment is worth it.

“What the benefit will be over time is a high return on investment with individuals staying in New Mexico, working in our workforce and having those family-sustaining wages that will keep New Mexico running over time,” Rodriguez said.

Related: ‘Wasted money’: How career training companies scoop up federal funds with little oversight

The design of the program means that students can stack federal financial aid on top of Opportunity scholarships to cover basic needs beyond tuition. Rodriguez said there’s evidence that students are indeed using the scholarships in that way. First-year students including those who get the scholarship also received Pell Grants and other federal aid, she said her department found.

At Eastern New Mexico University, about 30 percent of students at the main campus receive Opportunity scholarships, and others receive separate state aid to help them cover their tuition, said President James Johnston. Enrollment grew nearly 7 percent this fall from the last academic year, Johnston said.

Some states with the more common and less generous last-dollar programs are experimenting with giving students who already used their Pell Grants to cover tuition an additional award to help them pay for books and other necessities. Oregon, for example, provides a minimum award of $2,000 to eligible students.

A handful of states are launching “first-dollar” programs to help residents pay for college, in which money from the state can be applied first to tuition. That means lower-income students can use their federal financial aid to pay for books, room, board, transportation and other costs. Credit: Sam Wasson/Getty Images

Some experts say that even when free college programs bring no real financial benefit to the lowest-income students, they can still have a positive impact. They can motivate students to look into and eventually pursue a higher education, whether or not they actually end up making any difference in the price. The word “free” is a powerful motivator, advocates say.

“There’s a lot of confusion and uncertainty and lack of transparency around college prices,” said Michelle Miller-Adams, a senior researcher for the Upjohn Institute who studies free college programs. “The benefit of these last-dollar community college programs has more to do with the messaging and the signaling that higher ed is affordable than it does with actually new financial resources.”

The less expensive last-dollar programs also can be more politically viable and likely to win bipartisan support. And they help many middle-income students who find paying for college difficult and might not qualify for other kinds of help.

Related: What’s a college degree worth? States start to demand that colleges share the data.

“There are people right above the Pell cutoff who don’t have access to federal financial aid, but also don’t have a lot of money,” Miller-Adams said. “Making college tuition-free for them is a big deal and great.”

How well a program works and how equitable it is also depends on whether it’s easy to understand. Some have potentially burdensome eligibility requirements, such as cutoffs based on grade-point averages or a requirement that recipients stay in the state for a certain period of time after graduating.

In many state legislatures, the rhetoric around free college has been more about producing workers with the skills employers need than helping the most marginalized students.

That’s the case in Michigan, where Whitmer is now hoping to expand her signature Michigan Reconnect program.

Ryan Fewins-Bliss, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, said that while first-dollar programs are generally better for students, the last-dollar approach allows Michigan to spread money to more people.

Related: Rural universities, already few and far between, are being stripped of majors

Just a few years ago, the state was near the bottom of the list in terms of money spent on financial aid, Fewins-Bliss said. Now it’s spending millions. With that increase, it’s hard to complain about the details.

“People have lost faith in their government and institutions. We need to renew that by investing in people,” he said. “And there’s no better way to change someone’s life than getting them more education.”

This story about free college programs was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our higher education newsletter.

The post How the promise of free college doesn’t always help low-income students appeared first on The Hechinger Report.

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