Whitmer plan to boost funds for neediest K-12 students hits wall in Lansing

The Republican-controlled Senate and House have left the Democratic governor’s big school reform effort - weighted funding differentiated by student need - out of budget plans.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to give more money to Michigan students who have greater needs is in trouble in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid and Department of Education approved a school aid appropriations bill Thursday that didn’t include  Whitmer’s recommendation for a “weighted formula” for school funding.

The Senate previously didn’t include weighted funding in its school aid budget, making the outlook for the reform, pushed by several bipartisan education groups, increasingly dim.

Whitmer proposed a budget in March that recommended an increase of a  half-billion dollars to Michigan public schools, with per-student funding increasing by $180.

While Michigan’s current budgeting system provides equal state funds for all students, Whitmer’s “weighted” plan would provide more dollars in low-income districts or to those students who receive special education services.

Related: Whitmer: Boost Michigan schools by $507 million, with more for neediest students

Whitmer’s March proposal included:

  • $120 million to increase state reimbursement to school districts for special education services. That’s a 4 percent jump.
  • $102 million increase to state support for economically disadvantaged, academically at-risk students, a nearly 20 percent increase. Total state funding is recommended at $619 million for this group of students under Whitmer’s proposal, which will provide an estimated $894 per eligible pupil.
  • $50 million to provide additional career and technical education opportunities for students. That’s an estimated $487 per eligible student. The current spending: about $50 per student.

Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis., chairman of the House subcommittee, told Bridge he would not discount Whitmer’s ideas. “As a former educator, I can support the concept,” Miller said. “If an amount of money is there to make it worthwhile, I’m a supporter of the concept of the weighted formula.”

Sheryl Kennedy, D-Davison, who serves on the subcommittee, said she was disappointed in the vote. The weighted system “provides schools what they need, it aligns with the collaborative research that was done, and if we’re doing anything other than working in that direction, we’re not serving the children of Michigan,” Kennedy said.

A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately return a request for comment.

After the Senate rejected Whitmer’s weighted funding formula in May, Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, who chairs the school aid appropriations subcommittee in the Senate, told The Detroit News that the weighting formula would cause a gap in school funding between downstate and “Up North” schools.

“So first goal is to make sure that all districts have that similar starting, that minimum foundation, then going forward and recognizing some of the differences,” Schmidt told the News.

A differentiated funding formula - providing more money to educate children from low-income families and English language learners, for example - is used in high-achieving states like Minnesota and fast-improving education states like Florida. It’s also a system that has been pushed by education advocacy groups and business and education consortiums that have studied ways to improve Michigan schools.

Related: The real state of Michigan education: improving outcomes costs money

“Michigan’s school funding approach is broken, and a new, fairer approach is needed that serves the unique needs of all students, regardless of their circumstances,” Dr. Randy Liepa, Wayne RESA superintendent, said in a statement released after the House vote.

I encourage lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support Gov. Whitmer’s plan for a weighted funding formula that helps all students succeed, including those who receive special education services and live in our poorest communities.”

Bob McCann, Executive Director, Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, said in a news release, “It’s time to make Michigan’s broken school funding method a thing of the past, and the House K-12 spending plan does nothing to help prepare students for college or careers. I encourage lawmakers to support Gov. Whitmer’s budget proposal, which includes a weighted funding formula that helps all students achieve and succeed in every classroom in every corner of our state.”

Teachers favor a weighted formula - a recent poll of Michigan educators found  six in 10 believed “allocating funding by student needs” would have a “large impact” on learning.

“MASA (Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators) is extremely disappointed that the House budget that was released today does not fiscally support the concept of weighted allocations for special education, career technical education or additional funding for at-risk students as was proposed by the Governor in her budget,” said Chris Wigent, MASA executive director. “The research is clear on the critical importance and impact of weighted funding and we would encourage the legislature to be willing to continue to consider moving from an extremely antiquated education funding system to one that is proven to be effective and in the best interest of students.”

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Kevin Grand
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 7:31am

"While Michigan’s current budgeting system provides equal state funds for all students, Whitmer’s “weighted” plan would provide more dollars in low-income districts or to those students who receive special education services."

"Weighted Plan"?!?

Is that how Gov. Whitmer is promoting the philosophy of "From each according to their ability" now?

When she decides to have the parent(s) devote a little something into this proposal, be sure to let everyone know.

Until then, this is nothing different from the continually proven failed "solution" of just dumping more money on the problem.

Edson Schaus
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 4:03pm

What in heaven's name does some communist buzz phrase have to do with Whitmer's plan? The impact of poverty on a child's ability to learn is well documented. Their parents lack the resources and experience to support their children in the same way that more prosperous take for granted. Making up that difference costs money unless you think the enriched environment that better off parents can provide their children doesn't have a significant dollar value.

Kevin Grand
Sat, 06/08/2019 - 7:17am

Your argument is non sequitur.

The "lack of resources" defense falls flat on its faces given the multiple examples I have cited in the past pertaining to Detroit Pubic Schools larger share of educational funding multiple years running compared to other Michigan school districts, along with Kris', and to a lesser degree Lennie's comment below.

The problem is not, nor ever has been, about money. This is a tried-and-true tactic that politicians absolutely love to employ in order to show that they are doing "something".

The real problem here is that a culture has been allowed to take hold and flourish in which the value of an education has been de-emphasised by the adults in those communities. The children have picked up on this, and the end result should be patently obvious.

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 9:30am

Your throwing money away. Rewarding bad behavior. The school board and the administration failed these kids. Benton Harbor receives more money per student than most in Michigan. They have failed those kids. 3rd graders can't read, 11th graders are no where near college ready and graduating kids who did not have the credits to graduate. The adults failed those kids. It isn't about the property that school sits on. They are just trying to put blame somewhere else. The school board with in fighting, greed and can't keep teachers. Classes with more than 60 students at times. Shameful.

Mike Watza
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 10:47am

If we win the Anti-Gerrymandering Fight, we can then rid ourselves of the great Do Nothing Party and start moving the State forward on Education and Infrastructure Funding.

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 1:18pm

What??? I thought the anti gerrymandering crowd was nonpartisan???? You're telling me it's not??

Kathi Geukes
Sun, 06/09/2019 - 8:07am

Bingo!! The Repubs have had their way long enough...and I don't want to hear about Jennifer Granholm, blah, blah blah....it's time to do right for the kids in MI public schools....if there's a problem in Detroit....deal with it...remove whomever you need to, to make it right. Just make sure that the kids down here get as much as the kids up there....the only problem I see is the Repub, " don't want to enrich public school kids" crowd because they know they will vote them out when they come of age!! And Betsy Wetsy should have NO say in what happens here...she's a national croan now!!!

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 3:35pm

Typical political pander. There is no connection between the amount of cash directed towards an issue and the solution of a problem. Split all the hairs you want but when a portion of a society accepts and embraces failure, that is what they get. So when a politician throws cash at a problem, that is that politician failing. That media doesn't dare to express that attitude just shows what a failure the media is too. Don't believe it? Any student can fail at any given school system. And the same goes for those who excel. The stats that are generated are more aligned with the statement that stats are nothing more that numbers with lies attached.

Sun, 06/09/2019 - 7:38pm

It is also true that anyone can be a great neighbor in any community and anyone can be a criminal in any community, but no one says that every police department in the state should have the same per capita funding allocation. There are communities that need more services provided through police departments, schools, and social services.

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 4:19pm

Doug, You make a good point. Even within a family, parents will find that one child needs more or different services than the other. If attention and resources were deliberately given equally, one child who needs braces or extra tutoring would lose out if the extra money were not allotted for more needs or services.

Chuck Jordan
Sat, 06/08/2019 - 3:48am

Maybe cheaper to build more prisons, but taxpayers will pay either way whether through Medical bills, the justice system, or the welfare system. Poor schools are tied to poor communities and yes just throwing money at the problem will not help. There is just not the will to improve schools in poor neighborhoods. The middle class school children will do just fine.

Sun, 06/09/2019 - 9:53am

If you ever needed a description of 'throwing money' at a problem then the latest example is Governor Whitmer's plan for adding to Michigan education funding.

There is a problem, the disappointment of learning by students in various schools/school districts across Michigan, and yet since taking power in Lansing Governor Whitmer has done nothing to identify what is causing such disappointing results, makes no effort to describe what needs to change to improve the results, and her only answer is to give the schools and school districts yielding such sad student performance more and more money.

I would like to hear from anyone who can describe to the flaws in how the add money will change student learning results, how Governor Whitmer displays an understanding and commitment to improving student learning results, and how she will ensure that the schools and school districts will be held accountable for the successful learning of those students who are entrusting their academic futures to.

Learning is the key to opening the future of people in our knowledge and skill based economy! Governor Whitmer's answer is the same we have heard and witnessed for generations, it simply another [expensive] step on the historic path of Michigan education, she is chipping away the hope of students, parents, and residents across Michigan.

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 8:01pm

With at least 300 Betsy Schools you would think Michigan would have turned the corner by now in educational success, LOL. I don't read the Governor's budget proposal to mean she wants to literally throw money at stupid kids with stupid parents but that seems to be the consensus here. Maybe some of the commentators would rather throw their tax dollars toward some Republican Pork Barrel Projects.

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 7:18pm

Do you believe kids and parents have a role/responsibilities in the learning process? If so, how is Governor Whitmer's spending going to impact those roles/responsibilities or do you feel it is only teachers and administrators that affect the student's learning success?
As best I can tell the Governor is planning to throw more money at the adults who have been spending all the past moneys and getting the results she decries.
The reality is that there are thousands of successful public school graduates each year, we see them succeeding academically in univerisities here and across the country. It would seem better to go to find why and how those successes are happening then to simply want to give more to do what is already disappointing Michigan voters.