What does it really cost to educate students? Let’s take another stab at figuring it out.

high school students taking a test

On Jan. 10, we officially launched the School Finance Research Collaborative, a broad-based and diverse group of Republicans, Democrats, Independents, business leaders and education experts from Metro Detroit to the U.P. who agree it’s time to change the way Michigan’s schools are funded.

The collaborative is bringing together top industry experts to reexamine our approach to financing Michigan’s schools to fully prepare all students for jobs and success, from our urban centers to the suburbs, to rural areas and the U.P. You can learn more about our ongoing effort at fundmischools.org.

It’s become abundantly clear that the way Michigan funds its schools is broken. We must reexamine our approach so all students can achieve and succeed.

Small businesses, which fuel Michigan’s economic engine, rely on our public schools to prepare students for jobs, technical education and college so they are fully prepared for the rapidly evolving 21st century workforce.

Currently, our K-12 school funding decisions are made based on the current economic condition of the state and political compromise. But those decisions fail to address the long-term question, “What will it take to prepare today’s children for tomorrow’s economy?” It’s an issue of crucial importance to entrepreneurs, who report that access to talent is one of the biggest challenges to future small-business growth and success.

Working together, the School Finance Research Collaborative will create a roadmap to providing great learning opportunities for the next generation of young people, whether they work in the private and public sector or launch their own firms as entrepreneurs.

The state-funded Michigan Education Finance Study, released in June of last year, provided useful data on how we can better serve all students. The collaborative will build on those findings by conducting a truly comprehensive school adequacy study.

Some people have prematurely criticized the collaborative, claiming our work will invariably lead to recommendations for more school funding. We’re committed to letting research – not any preconceived notion or agenda – drive the Collaborative’s work in the months ahead.

Our goal is to collect the best, most complete and most accurate information on what it truly costs to educate our students, something that has never been done in a comprehensive way in Michigan.

The collaborative’s report will use multiple proven and established methods to measure school funding adequacy. At the end of this process, we will deliver those findings to Michigan policymakers, stakeholders and taxpayers.

Our overarching goal is to prepare all students for jobs and bright futures right here in the Great Lakes state. The success of all of our students will keep Michigan’s economic comeback charging forward.

We hope the collaborative’s wide-ranging expertise will shed a guiding light on this crucial process as it moves forward.

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.

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Fri, 01/20/2017 - 8:06pm

The answer is, It depends on who you are teaching and what you expect them to learn therefore can not be answered. This views our milllions of individual students as a composite rather inviduals with varied abilities and interests and has the smell of a classic waste of money, make work for consultants program and guarantees what ever you are doing will never be enough.

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 12:54pm

Do we really need a study to study the study before action can be taken? So what is the timeline for this study to publish recommended actions? Who will they be provided to? How long will it take our legislative body to enact meaningful changes based on the study's study recommendations? My prediction another 15 years. In the meantime how many students will have passed through the Michigan education system with less than adequate resources?

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 9:54pm

Its adults talking to adults so why not spend money to figure out how to get more of other peoples/ money.

It seems they have no interest in what the money buys, they only seem interested in ensuring there is more money for the educational system adults.

If they want more money for the schools so when Michigan residents are suffering through a down turn the schools are insulated from the real problems of taxpayer, it is simple. They can create a head tax for every Michigan resident [since they are supposed the one benefiting from the success of our school system] and establish a fix dollar amount that every resident has to pay. They can simply put in a multiple that escalates the taxes every year and there is no more school funding problem [except there will never be enough] for the adults in the school systems.

Until they show some interest in successful student learning, how and why it happens, the money first approach simply validates the perception that its all about the adults and the kids are simply the excuse. My best guess it that they will add one caveat, decreased funding for alternative education methods such as charter schools.

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 2:54pm

I do not think anyone currently in the legislature that has the intestinal fortitude to do anything about fixing our broken funding system!! They are to busy passing laws to help arm everyone in the state????

Sat, 01/21/2017 - 8:17am

"At the end of this process, we will deliver those findings to Michigan policymakers, stakeholders and taxpayers."Where it will most likely be shelved and ignored unless it fits into certain ideologies and political game playing scenarios.

Kevin Grand
Sat, 01/21/2017 - 11:47am

Did anyone else read this piece and walk away a little confused regarding what the actual intent of it was supposed to be?For an organization <a href="http://www.fundmischools.org/about/" rel="nofollow">whose stated goal was;</a><i>"...to collect the best, most complete and most accurate information on what it truly costs to educate our students and to use that data to make recommendations on how the state can better serve all students, regardless of their location, circumstances or challenges."</i>It took me less than 10-seconds to pull up literally everything necessary to accomplish that right here from <a href="https://www.mischooldata.org/DistrictSchoolProfiles/FinancialInformation... rel="nofollow">financial expenditures</a> all the way to <a href="https://www.mischooldata.org/DistrictSchoolProfiles/ReportCard/Education... rel="nofollow">academic results.</a> Why are Ms. Jacobs, Mr. Fowler (and we cannot forget Ms. Arellano, <a href="http://www.fundmischools.org/members/" rel="nofollow">she's part of this little endeavor as well</a>) literally attempting to reinvent the wheel if time is allegedly of the essence?If anyone else has the time, the information was compiled by the Michigan Department of Education, and I <b>highly recommend</b> going through it to see what really is going on.According to their latest numbers, it's more than a little eye-opening when school districts like Armada Public Schools spend around $9,000/pupil and is able to achieve results <a href="http://www.macombdaily.com/article/MD/20151127/NEWS/151129642" rel="nofollow">like this,</a> yet districts like Detroit are spending well over $15,000/pupil with students who cannot <a href="https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/dst2015/pdf/2... rel="nofollow">read</a> or even do <a href="https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/dst2015/pdf/2... rel="nofollow">basic math!</a>In the real world, if you cannot fulfill your job effectively and economically, you no longer have that job.Something that Messrs. Fowler, Maibach, Fisk and Meyers along with Mses.Welsh, Byrum and Wright should be acutely aware of in their chosen professions.

Steve Williams
Mon, 01/23/2017 - 12:19pm

Agree with Kevin Grand. Grand Rapids Public Schools spends over $24,000 per year per full time equivalent student from State's website. They also have 10.8 students in attendance on average per teacher.

Gregory Eaton
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 11:16am

I agree but here's the issue. What exactly does per pupil spending mean? It's an average right. Detroit or any bigger city uses more per pupil spending because they have more buildings and need more teachers. So they spend more on things not even related directly to resources for the children. Look the most successful inner city schools do the same things. They have after school programs for homework help or extra curricular activities. They work with other educational programs. A number of Detroit schools are incorporating this, but not enough for sure. They promote individual attention. And most importantly they set out strong behavioral tendencies. People make an argument about funding all day. Yet if you aren't doing those things it's just money being wasted.

John Q. Public
Sat, 01/21/2017 - 10:08pm

<i>Some people have prematurely criticized the collaborative, claiming our work will invariably lead to recommendations for more school funding.</i>What would make people think a group comprised almost entirely of lobbyists and education professionals is going to conclude that current funding for education is inadequate, prior to their research even being conducted? Probably years of experience. Are they to believe that this study is being undertaken because of a belief that funding is super-adequate?

Sun, 01/22/2017 - 7:28am

I will say that Michigan Seniors are way Over-taxed in supporting schools, especially those that have never had any children. On my property tax statement, it shows that 58% of my property tax bill goes to support schools in one way or another. I also recently read that ~1/3 of State Income Tax goes to schools one way or another. How can one blame anybody for moving to Florida or another Tax Friendly State? And on top of that, Michigan now taxes pensions. Thank you Michigan.

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 1:25am

What is disappointing is that this group is just another one more interest in the adults than in the students. This group is more interested getting more money for the adults running the schools than in the students learning. If they truly want to know what it cost to educate students they should first decide what constitutes what a successful student has learned and why and how they learned.There is no mentions state of student learning and what it should in this article, it is only is paid to the schools and how the people operating the schools should be insulated to the economic winds that those whose money they are spending must face each day..My best guess that all of those in this group that operate their own business focus on the results they will deliver to customers rather than demanding payment before results/value is delivered. And yet, that is just what they want to do for the schools. Here\'92s an idea this group won\'92t consider: use the business approach pay after you have received the expected value. Reverse the way \'91schools\'92 get paid, start with results having the students pay [$20 per student per classroom hour] to the teacher after each class based on if they learned in class, then let the teachers [they can set the amount] pay the administrators out of what the students paid them, and the school administrator will pay the district administration and so on. Let the ones who are supposed to be getting the value decide on if they should get paid and how much and when. I suspect that this approach will stimulate creativity and student interest in the classroom, improved effectiveness and inefficiencies, and improve results.This group seems destined to get more money for the schools while not changing the learning results we will be promised.

Gregory Eaton
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 11:03am

It's a group so frankly we don't know all they'll discuss. Yet from the article I'd have to agree with you. Also I think it's not secret what helps children learn the best. The problem is that we aren't interested in doing it. It's been proven time and time again. Individual attention, access to learning resources, and non chaotic households. Brings out well educated kids every time. The government or organizations can only handle two of those things. Not sure how you handle the third.

Gregory Eaton
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 11:03am

It's a group so frankly we don't know all they'll discuss. Yet from the article I'd have to agree with you. Also I think it's not secret what helps children learn the best. The problem is that we aren't interested in doing it. It's been proven time and time again. Individual attention, access to learning resources, and non chaotic households. Brings out well educated kids every time. The government or organizations can only handle two of those things. Not sure how you handle the third.

Martha Toth
Mon, 01/23/2017 - 3:15pm

"Small businesses ... rely on our public schools to prepare students ... for the rapidly evolving 21st century workforce." That, of course, is not the only purpose of education, but leave that aside. Speaking only in terms of what businesses need from employees, our status quo of test-based accountability has not served those interests well. Our schools have devolved into test-prep factories, since teachers, schools, and districts live or die based on these almighty scores. Necessarily, all this focus on testing has crowded out a lot of genuine education.One of my kids has been working with college grads at NASA, NOAA, Lockheed Martin, and several smaller contractors. Her greatest challenge as a manager is getting her people to simply do the work: plan properly, follow the plan, meet commitments, don't let down the team, don't promise what they cannot deliver. Most have the content knowledge and subskills required, but not the work ethic, collaboration skills, integrity, or motivation needed.I spent decades associated with mentoring programs that sought to inculcate these soft skills, but I got my own at home and in school generations ago. Good teachers have always taught important life skills, and those lessons are the ones I recall decades later. Now, though, if it isn't on the tests, they don't have time for it. There are explicit exceptions, such as the New Tech High schools that rely on multidisciplinary, project-based learning to produce competent self-starters. Those innovative programs do not fit well with accountability systems that insist every child meet every benchmark precisely on schedule. Guess what I'm saying is: money isn't the only problem. We're doing it wrong.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 1:38pm

Our current approach to "one size fits all, every kid goes to college" is expensive and a massive waste of effort and talent. Very bright, motivated, honest, hard working kids walk out of HS every day and never return. There is NOTHING there that they find useful or interesting. We need to take a serious look at other models of school structure. Allowing students to choose what they want to focus on will re-engage many of them in the process.I doubt even half of adults today could pass the common core derived, test driven, HS curricula that our kids face. Give them some freedom to chose what they want to study. Self-selecting into career or college bound tracks is not evil, its practical. K-8 for basics, aptitude testing and then offer choices for them: College Bound, Career/Tech/Skilled Trades or yes (God Forbid...) the general studies track. Allow them to switch lanes or "test in" if they change their minds. Business has to get involved in the training/internship side of things while they are still in school. Asking schools to train your employees for free, then trying to get them to work unpaid internships is grossly unjust. Get in on the ground and be part of the solution. School districts do not have the money to build career/tech centers if they don't already have them in place. I have watched my district allow woods, metals, electricity and small engine programs die as they add more AP programs (Adequate Yearly Progress weights AP higher than Auto Tech). Hands on courses are more expensive (teacher and materials) than online AP classes.We need to strike a balance. The current system is heavily slanted toward college now. How many of you actually use the concepts in Algebra II on a daily basis? Well, they have to pass it to graduate, you did not! Why should any student of modest means go out and get $50-100 thousand dollars in debt to be a Barrista at Starbucks or a Wallmart greeter? How about an electrician, plumber, welder, mason, pipe fitter, medical technologist, computer network specialist, CNC operator, truck driver, carpenter, auto technician, etc? Project based learning is well received by students, but it costs money and its cheaper to pile 40 kids into a classroom than it is to give 20 students a teacher and 18 weeks to plan, build, test and demo something they created from scratch.Its just my 2 cents...but education goals are severely out of whack and students are dropping out or limping through because they have no input and see no value in a HS diploma. We need to change that. Let kids and parents have some freedom to chose areas of study that they find rewarding. This won't be cheap and 10 years of educational abuse/neglect and disinvestment from the state won't be overcome quickly.