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. 

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.