Sweeping study proposes major changes to how Michigan schools are funded

teacher in classroom

Michigan needs to change the way it funds education so that schools get more money for students who need extra attention — such as those who live in poverty and those who don’t yet have a strong command of the English language.

That’s the top recommendation from a prominent group of educators, policymakers, and business leaders who have studied Michigan’s school funding system for much of the past two years.

    While many states use a complex formula that gives schools more money if they serve children facing extra challenges, Michigan has long used a system that distributes the same amount of money for virtually all students, regardless of their needs.

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    The state provides some extra funding for students with disabilities — but not nearly enough, according to a state study last year that found schools across Michigan are getting $700 million less a year than they need to serve those students.

    The study released last month recommends a major restructuring so that schools would be fully funded for special education programs and would get extra funds to provide resources to students who need extra help. With that money, schools could offer lower class sizes, add counselors and social workers, and give teachers more support, the report says.

    The study was conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates on behalf of the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative.

    The collaborative — including top business and education leaders across the state — came together in 2016 after an earlier “school adequacy study” was largely ignored by political leaders.

    The earlier study, which was funded by the state Legislature, recommended the state significantly increase the amount of money it sends to schools per student.

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    The collaborative hopes this new more robust study, which clocks in at more than 300 data-packed pages, will have a greater impact.

    Since this study used multiple methods to determine the right funding level for schools, it will be more difficult to ignore, the group hopes.

    The study — paid for with $843,000 from major foundations and 18 county school districts — included interviews with hundreds of educators, including district and charters school teachers. Those interviews helped researchers determine how much money schools need to more effectively do their jobs.

    The study examined geographic cost differences in different parts of the state, labor cost differences, and other factors and determined that schools need approximately $9,590 each for students who don’t have special needs, including funds that would come from the state and federal governments.

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    The study recommends that schools get 35 percent more for students living in poverty, between 50 and 70 percent more for students who are learning English, 70 percent more for students with mild disabilities and 115 percent more for students with moderate disabilities.

    Among other recommendations in the  report is that charter schools receive the same per-student funding as districts. Currently, the state’s funding system pays some districts more per student than others based largely on historic funding levels as opposed to current needs. Some districts — including most charter schools — are currently getting around $7,600 per child from the state while others get thousands of dollars more.

    It’s difficult to compare how much funding schools are getting now with the proposed $9,590 per student because schools get a mix state and federal dollars and the $9,590 doesn’t include things like transportation dollars.

    The report suggests the state use a new approach to student transportation in which transportation dollars are distributed differently, taking into account differences between urban and rural school districts.

    The report did not put a price tag on the cost of implementing the recommendations and did not spell out how Michigan could come up with the extra money. But members of the collaborative said they hope lawmakers will consider the report as they make policy changes.

    “The issue here is not about whether you live in Farmington or whether you live in Ingham County, it’s about every child ought to have the opportunity to be successful and that ought to be our goal in Michigan,” said Randy Liepa, the Superintendent of Wayne County’s intermediate school district. “I don’t think there will be significant pushback on that.”

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    Thu, 02/08/2018 - 11:42am

    At more than 300 pages this will be easy to ignore, I can't imagine any legislator wanting to wade through that much data. Right now Snyder and the legislature are squaring off over his just proposed budget with Republicans wanting tax cuts and Snyder looking for increases to the school budget and roads. Bottom line do they really care about students living in poverty, handicaps or struggling with English? If it means shifting money away from schools in their districts probably not.

    Kevin Grand
    Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:34pm

    Where is the part showing a correlation between the funding a school district receives and the level of academic success?

    District like Detroit receive a disproportionately large share of state education funding with the resulting test scores practically criminal. And surrounding districts with significantly less state funding show not only a higher achievement rate from that spending less, but succeed in other areas like those going onto college as well.

    Money obviously isn't the solution to this problem.

    Fri, 03/23/2018 - 2:38pm

    And not true at all.

    Mary Fox
    Tue, 05/15/2018 - 6:22pm

    A total right-wing myth.

    Thu, 02/08/2018 - 1:12pm

    On January 23, Bridge ran articles saying how Michigan’s economy needed more college graduates and a better educated workforce. In today’s Bridge, we see proposals to give more money to those who probably would not help Michigan’s economy as well as someone from a more affluent district. Where is the funding to help those that would help Michigan the most?

    Sat, 02/10/2018 - 9:38pm

    You know, not all of us with disabilities, the group with the highest funding increase, are, as you say, "those who probably would not help Michigan’s economy as well as someone from a more affluent district."

    Most of us grow up to be pretty fantastic adults. Attitudes like this, that kids who start off disadvantaged won't ever be anything, so let's give more money to the kids who already have a lot, are callous and the reason we are where we are. Screw this poor kids, those disabled kids, those leeches...and before you argue with me, I *am* a disabled adult and was that disabled kid and now I work with tech based mentoring to get at-risk children interested in pursuing education and careers in STEAM fields. You are dismissing *me* and my interpretation of your words is valid.

    Don't tell at-risk students they shouldn't have the same chance as more affluent kids to change their corners of the world. They are bright and creative and, having lived in challenging circumstances, incredibly clever problem solvers.

    Besides, Michael Faraday was one of those kids and he changed our world with his discoveries.

    Mon, 02/12/2018 - 12:51pm

    Maybe the argument should have been for even funding across all categories rather than disproportionately towards some selected groups? More money at stake always causes trouble and shenanigans. It could be just as validly argued that gifted (what ever that means) children should get more funding because of the future benefits they bring. Where does this stop?

    Fri, 03/23/2018 - 2:42pm

    Which is exactly NOT the finding of the report. Shsh.

    Thu, 02/08/2018 - 4:33pm

    Since by the title and the who is conducting the study, anyone knows this isn't asking for any real change, except more money, how do you ascertain whether this additional money does any good in any concrete measurable way? Would APA be interested in guaranteeing results? Sure more money for special Ed etc etc .. but to what gain?

    Thu, 02/08/2018 - 4:49pm

    Wow, another school funding study recommends spending more money?! Failure to put a price tag on the cost of the recommendations or how to pay for them seems like two glaring omissions. Give this study a grade of “I” for Incomplete.

    Thu, 02/08/2018 - 6:28pm

    Education is the framework for a better and safer future for all Michiganders, arm the disadvantaged children with hope, and they will no longer be armed with guns, thereby creating an environment whereby all can not only survive, but thrive, about time Michiganders demanded the best to be the very best in the nation.

    Dennis Neylon
    Tue, 05/15/2018 - 7:41pm

    They have no idea, despite having compiled “over 300 densely packed pages of data”, how much this will cost or how to raise the money. In other words, they have a wish list and hope the Legislature will magically impose enough new taxes, with no complaints from those the taxes are levied on to meet the need calculated by the education bureaucrats. Of these “experts” were honest, they could dip into all those 300 pages of densely packed data and share with us how many children are in each category and how much it would cost. These same experts should be smart enough to look at revenue data and give us some options for how the state might raise this money. Both of these actions would introduce a serious element of reality which is sadly missing.