Opinion | COVID-19 highlights Michigan's broken school funding model

James Stapleton

Jim Stapleton is a Detroit-area businessman, Regent Emeritus at Eastern Michigan University and a founding member of the School Finance Research Collaborative.

The greatest public health crisis of most of our lifetimes — which sadly shows few signs of going away any time soon — has ravaged our country in ways too numerous to mention. Yet, as we examine COVID-19’s impact on public education in our state, surely it’s at the top of any list. 

Michigan businesses rely on our K-12 schools to equip students with the academic, technical and life skills needed to succeed in a no-holds-barred, global economy. The inconsistent patchwork of back to school plans across Michigan — some of which have already resulted in schools re-closing due to outbreaks — threatens to clog the talent pipeline businesses rely on to survive in this time of great economic uncertainty.  

Michigan’s K-12 school funding model has been fundamentally broken for some time. COVID-19 has only shined a brighter light on the problem. Glaring disparities that existed pre-COVID-19, including the digital divide and a lack of access to technology and broadband, continues to disproportionately impact students in rural and low-income communities. Further, last spring, remote learning presented significant challenges for students with special needs, and those students face the same hurdles with the new school year underway. 

The virus has accentuated unacceptable inequities and lack of fairness in how we fund schools. It has highlighted how Michigan fails to provide adequate resources in communities statewide. That’s not only unfair, it’s unsustainable and a major disservice to our kids. Thus, the new school year began under an obsolete school funding approach that disregards the unique needs of students and threatens our state’s economic resurgence.  

These immense challenges make it more important than ever to heed the School Finance Research Collaborative’s research. The Collaborative has provided the roadmap for a new school funding approach that serves the unique needs of each and every Michigan student. It produced Michigan’s first comprehensive school adequacy study that determined the true cost to educate a child in our state, regardless of income, zip code, learning challenges or other circumstances.  

The study also recommended additional funding for students living in poverty, those enrolled in special education, as well as English Language Learners and Career and Technical Education programs. The model helps prepare all students for success, including those bound for technical school, apprenticeships and jobs right after high school.  

The Collaborative, which I’ve served on since its formation, is a broad-based, bipartisan group of business leaders and education experts from all corners of Michigan who agree it’s time to fix our broken school funding approach. It has never been more important for policymakers to heed our research.  

Continuing the status quo is no longer an option. 

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