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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Michigan must fix school funding model for students to shine

An immigrant twice over, I am an ardent advocate for our children’s education.

As a young girl, I came to America with my parents who were pursuing higher education at one of our world class universities. I learned to value democracy in our public schools - and believe in my dreams. My parents decided to move our family back to their homeland when I was in the middle of high school. I studied hard, earned a bachelors in mechanical engineering, and came back home to America for grad school.

After I married another engineer, we moved to Michigan to help make cars, and chose Troy with its excellent public schools for our children. Over the years, I’ve traveled to Lansing often, to advocate against education funding cuts that are diminishing our children’s opportunities, and volunteered in local schools to help compensate for those cuts.

Those experiences taught me that high-quality education is a foundation for success, for both individuals and communities. Yet for years, the School Aid Fund has been robbed to address other revenue shortfalls. Michigan’s current per-pupil funding formula was developed during a frenzied, last-minute, lame duck legislative session in 1994. That funding formula was established before we had expensive test-based accountability policies or the Internet. Twenty-five years later, citizens across Michigan know from experience what the researchers are now telling us: our school funding is neither equitable nor adequate.

I heard that public call at a town hall meeting I recently hosted in my House district focusing on Michigan’s public education system, to have a more robust conversation and remove partisanship around the topic. Panelists and community members discussed how education is critical to economic opportunity and Michigan’s future. They also discussed findings from the School Finance Research Collaborative’s comprehensive study, the Launch Michigan initiative, and how Governor’s Whitmer’s values-based budget proposal is a small step toward achieving adequate and fair funding for Michigan’s public schools.

Civic and corporate leaders across the state who understand the critical importance of high-quality education are calling for reversal of Michigan’s disinvestment from public schools. There are groups that disagree, as was argued in a recent guest commentary in Bridge Magazine.

But decades of research shows that increased support for education results in higher academic outcomes. The Crossroads report written by MSU scholar David Arsen and his colleagues, clearly lays out the problems with Michigan’s system of education finance and charts a new direction for the state. A clear and simple fact holds true: Michigan is last among the 50 states in per-pupil education revenue growth since 2003.

Our one-size-fits all funding formula ignores the reality that every child is unique. The formula hasn’t kept up with rapidly changing technological or social changes. If we take into consideration each child’s individual needs, individual outcomes will be better and our schools will be successful. Ensure that a student in the Upper Peninsula has access to online learning opportunities with broadband, provide meals to a student who comes to school hungry. Don’t consider funding for special education something “extra.”

We are the wealthiest nation in the world with sufficient resources to protect the most vulnerable: our children. Research only validates what I already know: that students today aren’t getting the same opportunities I or my kids received. Let’s do what we can to reverse the damage in the short-run and invest in the future by fixing the outdated and inadequate education funding model.

Every child in Michigan deserves the same opportunity I had, and a bright future where they too can pursue their dreams.

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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