Opinion| Michigan schools need a fairer funding model for all students

Randy Liepa is Superintendent of Wayne RESA and is one of five candidates in the running to become the next Michigan State Superintendent.

As Superintendent of Wayne RESA, I read with great interest a recent Bridge guest commentary by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

While there has been dueling commentary over the past several years about whether funding for Michigan schools has increased or decreased, school officials doing the actual work in local districts know clearly what has happened over the past many years.  Many — if not most — school districts have had to reduce programs and services to students, and this has impacted student achievement in our state. This includes the collapse of our largest district along with other districts that have disappeared. And, local officials know they have more at-risk students attending school and fewer programs to support them.  

Related opinion: Calm down, Michigan, the sky isn’t falling, nor is school funding
Opinion: Don’t believe the hype – Michigan school funding is down, not up​
Related: Five finalists named to be Michigan’s next state school superintendent

Regardless of dueling numbers, the reality is our current funding system is not working for our students. As a result, our schools continue to struggle to meet Michigan’s rigorous academic standards, and our students continue falling behind their peers across the country. There is no one-size-fits-all way to educate Michigan’s pre-K-12 students. A new, fairer school funding approach is needed that serves all students, regardless of zip code, income, learning challenges or other circumstances. 

There’s good news: The School Finance Research Collaborative has provided the roadmap to fixing Michigan’s broken school funding approach and making it fair for all students. The Collaborative, which I’m proud to serve on, has produced Michigan’s first comprehensive school adequacy study that determined the true cost of educating a child in Michigan. 

The Collaborative is a bipartisan and diverse group of business leaders and education experts from all corners of Michigan who agree it’s time to finally change how we fund our schools.  

We know the report’s recommendations should be implemented over several years. But we must start now. The governor’s budget proposal begins to address the report’s recommendation. This is a significant step in the right direction.

Now is the time for all policy leaders and lawmakers from both political parties to use the Collaborative’s first-of-its-kind research as the building blocks for a new, fairer approach that provides all students the opportunities for the future they deserve.  

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Lou Steigerwald
Thu, 04/11/2019 - 8:37am

Gov. Snyder cut funds to schools in his first year and we never got back to where we were prior to that cut, especially if simple inflation is taken into account.

Michigan schools do not provide nearly what is provided in most leading states. If we want to gain ground we have to do what the leading states do successfully. More of the same will lead to more of the same results.

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 10:09am

Cutting funding to schools is a sure way to keep a state uneducated and poor, which seems to be the way the Republicans want to keep it. Never could figure that one out...who is benefitting from this ideology?

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 10:25am

"The Collaborative is a bipartisan and diverse group of business leaders and education experts from all corners of Michigan who agree it’s time to finally change how we fund our schools."

Whenever I see "business leaders" involved in some kind of education reform idea I shake my head and say "here we go again".

Carrie Rathbun Hawks
Thu, 04/11/2019 - 12:03pm

While I had the same initial thought, I realized I wasn't taking into account the fact that businesses are facing challenges finding good talent for a variety of jobs -- mostly in the CTE areas -- which can lead to them pulling out of our state. If their perspective provides a more well-rounded plan that gets down to the importance of preparing our students for the real world, why not hear them out? Many businesses from various sectors are already seeing the value in investing in robotics, arts, CTE and STEM programs, as well as marketing and business classes at the high school level in particular. The schools need their help. They fill gaps the general fund budgets can't. They serve as mentors. We're at a different place in what's needed for educating our future workforce. The more diverse voices, the better, IMHO.

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 12:45pm

This from a man who worked at an Intermediate School District or whatever acronym you want to call it. Please tell me what an ISD contributes to the educational formula. Right there is 83 times a whole bunch of money that could be contributed to the local schools.

Carrie Rathbun Hawks
Thu, 04/11/2019 - 1:54pm

Oh my goodness. With all due respect, I would encourage you to do some research on ISDs. They're integral to a county's districts being in sync on a variety of issues, which pools resources and ultimately saves money. Busing for special needs children is almost always their responsibility -- and mandated by the state, I believe. ISDs provide research-based teaching and learning methods and professional development to school personnel, along with direct services like speech, physical therapy and many others to public and non-public school students, and special education for students birth to 26, as well as early childhood and parent support services for those in need, and Career & Technical Education -- something that's become essential to preparing our students for entering the workforce. Some also provide business office services such as payroll and accounting, technology and data support, school improvement and state reporting support, and statewide innovative projects that serve professionals who provide services to students and their families.

David Waymire
Thu, 04/11/2019 - 2:12pm

First, there are not 83 ISDs...there are 57. Many rural counties choose to share an ISD. And many school districts share services that are managed through an ISD. For instance, it would be prohibitively expensive for a small rural school district to afford to hire a mental health specialist to deal with children dealing with home and other issues that need to be addressed. And ISD can provide a mental health professional to several districts in a cost effective way. Same with school district count accountings and many other services that ISDs provide. Please do some homework to avoid contributing to the rash of Kruger Dunning effect postings that comment sections seem to attract.

Ren Farley
Thu, 04/11/2019 - 1:30pm

It is good to see a discussion of school funding in Michigan. There have been some improvements in the equity of funding but there are still major challenges involving
equity issues.

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 5:56pm

If Mr. Liepa is indicative of the other candidates, then we can expect no change in Michigan education.
He is just another ‘leader’ that sees education from the top down, believing everything is right except they need more money for adults to spend [students don’t spend the money].
Mr. Liepa doesn't seem to see the student’s role in their learning, he blames the taxpayers for any disappointments [by being unwilling to give the schools unlimited funds], he shows no imagination, no curiosity, no capacity for change.
Michigan education, our hopes for improving results are dashed.

Al Churchill
Fri, 04/12/2019 - 4:17pm

For crying out loud Duane, for at least once in your comments, write something positive. I live in Livonia, where Mr. Leipa was Superintendent and none of what you write is credible. For a start, he is one of the nicest, most accessable human beings that you will ever meet. As a public employee, he is outstanding. My wife, Audrey and I have three children and two grandchildren who have graduated from Livonia Public Schools. All are responsible, productive citizens, with one masters degree and another coming at the end of the year. Add two bachelors degrees and add the fact that all are gainfully employed and never miss a vote and care a great deal about our country, I'd say that Randy Leipa, as Superintent of Livonia of Schools and the staff in Livonia have done everything possible as educators, to provide a basis of success for my family. All, including Randy, have watched the money, eliminated waste and never have I heard him criticise the people who pay the bills. If anything, he has included ordinary citizens in decision making. Under his leadership, creatvity, curosity, imagination, and higher level thinking skills, generally, are integrated into the curriculum, especially where critical thinking skills are involved. But, if I had to pinpoint out one characteristic that sets Dr. Leipa above other well qualified candidates, it is his accessability and willingness to listen to others.

Nope. Wouldn't bother me one bit if Randy Leipa were appointed Superintendent of Michigan Schools.
Otherwise Duane, I read your stuff. Be a bit more positive and if Dr. Leipa is appointed top boss and you live within 100 miles of Livonia, I'll meet you half way and buy you a beer.

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 6:42pm

I apologize for my delay in responding, simply an error on my part.
Thank you for reading what I have written, thank you for commenting. Your point about being positive is a fair suggestion; I have to admit I use a more challenging approach framing my comments in an effort to trigger responses. I like to hear different perspectives, I place great value on diversity of perspectives, so I offer a different perspective.
I don't doubt that Mr. Leipa is all that you describe, but all I know of him is this article and his narrow focus on more money to the exclusion of any mention how it would impact the students, their learning process, their desire to learn. He made no mention linking the money to performance expectations, no vision of how the money should be spent or how he would ensure that taxpayers receive better value for their money. Unless all Livonia schools students had the learning succeeded as your children then he hasn’t learned all the answers and there is more to it than money, he makes no mention of the student’s role/responsibilities in there learning. By his only talking of money he gave the impression that he only needs to appeal to a single audience, those that want more money.
I have a couple of telltales for ‘educators’, do they look for success [do they try to learn from the students who have learning success, do they try to learn from the parents of the successful, do they talk about the learning process. Are you aware of Mr. Leipa having regular structured conversations with students [successful and not so successful] about learning and why and how they learn? Are you aware of him having those type of conversations with parents of successful students, especially parents like you with kids who had academic success after graduation?
As for the beer, since I live on the west side [just short of getting wet] how about the next time Bridge has a community 'listening' session in Lansing we can meet there? I grew up in Westland so I do have bit of history with the area.

Chris Carpenter
Thu, 04/11/2019 - 7:59pm

Randy Liepa and The Collective are just puppets working for MEA and school corporations. Funding is up, but since school systems underfunded their pensions - more of the funding they get goes towards that. What they need to do is tocome up with a more finacial responsible retirement system like 401K. They also need to quit paying educators who spend most or all their time working for the union. Schools get billions of dollars from many sources including the lottery. They just need to cut the waste and fat!

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 8:43pm

It is vitally important that the recommendations of the School Finance Research Collaborative be shared and promoted continuously until they are understood, embraced and implemented. It will take time as Mr. Liepa says, but this study must not be allowed to be discussed briefly and then shelved like so many other well researched reports have been.
Having served on one of the Evidence Based Panels of the collaborative, I can attest to the serious effort and solid research that supported the recommendations of the final report.
The debate about whether or not we have increased or reduced funding to our public school in the past decade is trap. It really is more about whether or not the funding is equitable and appropriate to meet the needs of all students. It is not, and the results clearly demonstrate that. I would encourage all who want a carefully researched report which details what kind of staffing and funding and supports we need to provide students in all of our schools to read the ful report of the School Finance Research Collaborative. The report as well as shorter summaries are available on line.

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 11:06am

No one is denying the personal involvement, sacrifices, anguish, true belief that each member of the Collaborative have made, but to say "...promoted continuously until they are understood, embraced and implemented.", that suggests that an 'elite' should determine Michigan education funding, how other people’s money is gathered with no regard for those people and surely no questions, comments, or conversations with those people.
As for if being put on shelf to gather dust like past reports/recommendation, maybe it isn't the report but maybe it is about how it is presented no differently than a long history of such reports/recommendations and how they have talked about the immediacy for implementation. This report become just another one of so many that have failed to shelved to gather dust along with all the rest. What is disappointing about your ‘elite’ team is that in this modern age of communication, of taxpayer awareness, and a changing culture of outspoken engagement hasn’t tried to learn from the past, have tried to understand the taxpaying audience, to learn the concerns. You and the others seem to be so self- center that you are obvious to the idea of engagement with those whose money you want and whose resistance you can’t accept.
How the report [as promoted in this article/comments] is about money and fails to describe what that money will deliver [what value will be generated by it], fails to describe how it will include accountability of programs and people spending the money for achieving specific expectations of results and how that accountability will end programs that are failing, fails to describe the learning process and how the money will be used to differently to facilitate that process, etc. The Collaborative recommendations are simply more noise to the long litany on education funding, so it will be short lived and be shelved because the members of the Collaborative and their supports failed to adapt, to listen, to address what the taxpayers will make their decision on and it won’t be the funding ideas, it will be on what they expect to get [a sharp stick in the eye or someplace lower].
What you don’t get is I am an outspoken proponent of education [coming out the ‘projects’ to earn a degree and the success that provided, watching our daughters have similar success based on the educations they earned, to seeing how our grandkids are being academically even more successful than their parents] and you are alienating me.

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 1:20pm

Hoesntly, dinosaurs like you should be alienated. Your vision of rugged individualism has hollowed this country out and destroyed the lives and futures of millions

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 6:27pm

Yes because the 50 years of leftist domination of the education sector from K - 16 has been a phenomenal success !

Sat, 04/13/2019 - 12:10am

I could understand how my comments 'alienated' you, but I have no clue of how I 'should be alienated'. What should being 'alienated' look like so I can recognizing when it is happening to me?
I have regularly seen 'rugged individuals' struggle and succeed through out my life, I saw it in school how it was that 'rugged individual' did their learning by doing their homework, I saw it at work how individual developed their own means/methods for facing and overcoming the challenges in their work, I have seen that individual in some very extreme situations that survived and help others succeed, time and again in see each day in those around me and we all see on the national scene those founders of business that create whole industries out of nothing and change the world from their initial creativity. We can see everywhere we look the 'rugged individual's' creativity, that 'rugged individual's' strength overcome the challenges life brings their way, it just seems you are unwilling to look for the 'rugged individualism' even in yourself.
As for being a dinosaur, I remember your as one of the early Neanderthals and their inability to recognize change and new ideas.

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 9:03pm

I am not an educator nor a policy maker, just someone who read the report. It is dangerous to dismiss this data as some respondents to TJH's comments seem to recommend. The report provides a funding road map that not only points to a more equitable system, but clear and concrete evidence of how, if implemented, Michigan schools could benchmark student performance and change our broken funding system. The sections dealing with the Evidence - Based Approach (pg. 63) offer evidence, analysis and clear illustrations of how these recommendations could positively impact student achievement. Either some of the critics seem unable to see the tie between the data and the recommendations, or they have not read the 232-page report. Taking in new information is hard. Criticizing it without doing the homework, or denying the data is cheating our children's future.

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 6:32pm

This is the type of piece that shouldn't be allowed. Just whinning about a problem without giving us his solution. What do you want to cut? On who and how do you want to increase our taxes? Spit it out!

Kevin Carstensen
Thu, 04/18/2019 - 3:19am

It’s a problem of how to get the most out of every dollar If you do a little research you will learn that parochial schools operate on a much smaller budget but get far better results than public schools
Kids have to be prepared to learn and that job falls squarely on parents shoulders So I will say it “schools aren’t failing the kids parents are”