Livengood: the “Outside the Beltway” coalition seeks to revise the funding inequalities of Michigan schools

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Another day another report on how Michigan is underfunding the education of its children.

With the exception of the latest report – this one from Education Trust-Midwest – highlights the funding crunch which is particularly pronounced for K-12 schools with high levels of students living in poverty, students with disabilities or those who come from families where English is not the main language.

“Michigan is underfunding these student groups to devastating levels,” the report read.

The Education Trust-Midwest report draws attention to how the legislature weighs additional funding for at-risk children from low-income families who require more individual attention – and are more expensive to educate.

Michigan is adding 11.5% to its roughly $ 8,000 per student grant to K-12 schools to educate low-income children.

By comparison, Maryland adds 73% and Massachusetts – which business leaders in the wealthiest states always seem to want to emulate – funds low-income students 105% above the base per student rate.

For English-language learners, Michigan adds 11 percent to the per-student grant. Maryland adds 85% and Georgia increases aid by 159% for children whose parents do not speak English at home, according to the report, which is bluntly titled “Engine of Inequality: Michigan’s Education System.”

Students with disabilities, who often cost twice as much to get an education, do not have a special weighted funding formula. According to the report from Education Trust Midwest, a Royal Oak-based education reform organization, they are simply “chronically” underfunded through partial reimbursement to school districts of their actual costs.

Michigan State University study found that Michigan school districts use more than $ 500 per student in general education funding to pay for special education programs and services.

This has been the practice of the Detroit Public School Community District for years, with this misappropriation of funds to pay for special education often exceeding $ 1,000 per student. In a school system of 50,000 students, that’s tens of millions of dollars that cannot be used to attract and retain hard-to-find math and science teachers.

The Education Trust-Midwest researchers did the math and found that, overall, Michigan’s poorest school districts receive 5% less taxpayer support than its poorest school districts.

Michigan isn’t alone in having an inequitable K-12 funding system – 15 other states also underfund schools with higher poverty levels, according to the report.

Very poor school districts are not limited to Detroit, Pontiac and Flint.

They are also in places like Evart, North Branch, and Waldron.

The Michigan legislature, which has been completely controlled by Republican lawmakers in rural parts of the state for a decade, provides rural school districts with additional funding to offset higher operational costs due to lack of economies of scale.

The bus, in particular, is very expensive in rural areas of the state, while some school districts in the compact suburb of Detroit don’t even have transportation costs for students.

Yet they all receive roughly the same amount of state aid under Michigan’s Unique Funding Formula (unless they’re in a school district that got a special deal there. a quarter of a century to allow its owners to pay higher taxes for better schools).

Education Trust-Midwest’s research – which was funded by the Ballmer Group, the philanthropic foundation of former Microsoft CEO and Detroit native Steve Ballmer – notes that even Michigan’s 11.5% increase in funding for very poor schools is not guaranteed.

When there is a budget deficit, the legislature put a provision in law that triggers a reduction in that extra money before less poor school districts take a hit in their core funding.

“This makes Michigan actually only providing 9% more to low-income students – and that’s well below what we’re seeing in other states and what the research calls for,” Mary said. Grech, chief of staff of The Education Trust-Midwest. .

Education Trust-Midwest is leading a diverse new coalition called the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity to call on the legislature to create a new funding formula that gives more leverage to school systems with higher poverty levels, special education students and English language learners.

The coalition is a mix of civic and educational groups, such as the Detroit Parent Network, the Autism Alliance of Michigan, and ACCESS, based in Dearborn.

It also includes a pair of business heavyweights: DTE Energy Co. and 42 North Partners, the private equity firm of Mike Jandernoa, the former CEO and chairman of West Michigan pharmaceutical giant Perrigo Co.

Jandernoa and DTE Vice President Dave Meador have put their business weight behind the coalition as they see the education system deteriorating rapidly and failing on several fronts.

Despite all the ambitious talk about Michigan being a “Top 10” state, we are actually getting closer to the Top 10 in K-12 educational outcomes.

In the long term, the coalition wants lawmakers to rewrite the funding formula for K-12 schools and put more weight on students with higher needs in order to make their educational opportunities more equitable.

“It’s not the same old, the same old coalition,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest. “In many ways, this is a coalition outside the Ring Road (Lansing).”


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