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Opinion | Equitable school funding helps Michigan students who need it most

May is a busy time for Michigan legislators working to finalize the 2022-2023 state budget. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Senate, and House of Representatives have all released their versions of the budget and now it is time for final negotiations to occur behind closed doors.

Frances Lazette
Frances Lazette is a French and individuals & societies teacher at Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

On May 20th, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference concluded that revenues have significantly increased since January. The expectation for the current, 2021-22, fiscal year is an additional $1.3 billion in the School Aid Fund.  For the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the Conference expects an additional $948.7 million.

It is imperative that legislators keep our state’s low-income and at-risk students at the forefront of their discussions and invest the surplus dollars in the students who need it the most. Michigan has ranked in the bottom five states for equitable school funding and continues to underfund our schools and students that need the most support. With this year’s budget, legislators should prioritize fully funding the promised 11.5 percent supplemental funding for at-risk students, a first step toward creating a more equitable funding system for our schools.

In Michigan, there are wide discrepancies between different districts’ programming and opportunities offered to students. Having worked exclusively in Title I buildings, which means that at least 40 percent of the school’s students are low-income, I have seen firsthand the importance of funding and the impact it can have on the quality of educational programming and support the school can provide for its students and families.

Fortunately, the low-income school I work in now is in an affluent suburban district, so I have access to staffing and resources that are often lacking in other Title I schools. My school has 600 students and the support of two administrators, three counselors, a social worker, a behavior interventionist, community assistants, four special education lead teachers, and several teacher assistants.

By contrast, my former school, also a Title I building, was in a predominantly low-income district. At that school there were about 900 students and we had one counselor and two special education teachers. That was all the support we had for 900 K-12 children. When my students were in crisis, there was often nobody available for them to speak to. As a teacher, it was heartbreaking to watch students shut down and disengage when I knew that with the proper support, we could do so much more for them.

This is why it is so important to ensure that our schools finally receive the full 11.5 percent additional funding for at-risk students. Over the years, our state’s low-income students have lost millions of dollars in supplemental funding because the Legislature has pro-rated that amount in response to budget shortfalls. This money is necessary to support the additional learning and social and emotional needs of at-risk students: smaller class sizes, extra counselors, literacy supports, intervention services, social workers, and facilitating connections to community organizations to provide wrap-around services for families in need.

This year, the State anticipates having more revenue than in years past, meaning that now is the time for the legislature to fully fund the 11.5 percent.

As negotiations occur over the next month, legislators need to keep our most vulnerable students as a top priority as they finalize the state budget. Fully funding the supplemental 11.5 percent funding for at-risk students demonstrates our commitment to addressing the needs of our children.

Michigan must take this first step and also commit to building a more equitable school funding system if we are to ensure all students have access to the level of academic and emotional support that they need and deserve.

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 Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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