Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Tale of Two Counties and the Inequity of K-12 Funding in Michigan

On the front page of the January 18, 2012 edition of Education Week, Sean Cavanagh writes about States Dogged by Lawsuits on K-12 Funding. The article discusses a variety of legal battles that “highlight the political and ideological divides over school funding in many states.

“Some of the districts also contend that the funding system is inequitable and provides impoverished school districts and needy populations such as English-language learners with insufficient resources. State legislators have continually changed funding mechanisms in ways that undermined districts’ funding, the lawsuit says.

A growing number of school districts feel we have no real choice but to fight the battle in court given the deep cuts in K-12 funding, expanding number of for-profit charters competing for less dollars, and the inequity in state funding schemes that fail to recognize the added burdens in districts with high concentrations of poor, English language learners, and students with special needs. NCLB has forced states to set high bars for annual testing, graduation, as well as college and career readiness, but it has not adequately addressed inequity in funding, facilities, and resources necessary to meet and indeed exceed the goals. State governments haven’t done any better.

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Michigan is near the bottom when it comes to equitable funding that ensures all students have quality schools, supports, and resources necessary to achieve the high standards set by NCLB and confirmed by Governor Rick Snyder’s reform agenda.  In fact, Michigan ranks 42nd in the nation in wealth-neutrality when it comes to school funding, which no doubt contributes significantly to a low 32nd rank in effectively addressing the poverty gap on the reading and math NAEP assessments. This was confirmed in Education Week’s Quality Counts 2012 and was the topic of my recent post, Setting High Standards for All But Ignoring the K-12 Opportunity Gap.

Yet, Governor Snyder and our legislative leaders continue to suggest the “stick” is a far better school reform measure than providing the “carrots” that will help achieve equity of opportunity for all children and sub-groups of students.

“Public school districts won't find their funding cut again in 2012 – but they might not get additional cash unless they can show they're improving or carrying out best practices, Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday.” Gov. Snyder: School districts might have to show improvement, collaboration to get more state money

This presents a number of problems for districts trying to plan future school improvement efforts that will positively impact student achievement while having no idea what type of so-called rewards will be received or when. Districts don’t have the capability of opening lines of credit with local banks to finance ventures such as the Governor suggests, which resemble more of a private business practice than a sound school budgeting practice. And then people wonder why the number of school districts in Michigan that are in a deficit budget has grown significantly in the past year?

Can anyone tell me how Governor Snyder’s plan even begins to address inequity of opportunity and the growing funding and academic achievement gaps in Michigan?

A Tale of Two Counties


I previously provided a simple illustration of Michigan’s inequity of opportunity by comparing my district – Godfrey-Lee Public Schools – with the other eighteen school districts in our county, along with a quick comparison to one of the most affluent districts in Michigan, Bloomfield Hills Public Schools on the east side of the state. It is located in Oakland County north of Wayne County and the City of Detroit and is sometimes referred to as Michigan’s equivalent to “home of the stars.” These illustrations can be found in my post, K-12 Funding Perpetuates the Inequity of Opportunity.
Michiganmap
I’ve since taken a more comprehensive look at the data that separates and compares the 19 school districts in Kent County with the 28 districts in Oakland County. In doing so, I use three common economic indicators: poverty rate for 5-17 year olds, SEV or state equalized valuation of property, and combined state and local revenues. The latter two are compared on a per-pupil basis to provide a more equitable comparison between varying-size districts. The fourth indicator is achievement as measured by the states NCLB-mandated Top-to-Bottom ranking of all public schools in Michigan. The data is laid out in a series of five tables to illustrate the disparity in equitable opportunities for students attending the 47 schools. In addition, each table includes an inequity index that combines the four indicators and ranks the schools on a scale of 0.01 (schools with the lowest poverty, highest SEV, highest revenue, and highest achievement scores) to 0.99 (schools with the highest poverty, lowest SEV, lowest revenue, and lowest achievement scores).

The tables are summarized below or you can go to the Google Doc link to see the complete data set:

Table 1: This table lists the 28 Oakland County schools sorted by the countywide inequity index. As you can see, Bloomfield Hills tops the list as the most affluent in the county and having the highest achievement score ranking. At the bottom of the list are schools closer to or bordering Wayne County and the City of Detroit.  With but a few exceptions, most of the schools at the bottom have higher poverty rates, lower SEV values, receive far less revenue than the more affluent districts, and are ranked lower on the achievement scale. The correlations between the numbers and the rankings are telling. Here’s a listing of the districts and their respective inequity index:

Oakland County District
Countywide Inequity Index
Bloomfield Hills
0.06
Birmingham
0.09
Novi
0.15
Troy
0.22
Rochester
0.26
Farmington
0.31
Royal Oak
0.34
Lake Orion
0.42
Walled Lake
0.43
Clarkston
0.45
Southfield
0.47
Clawson
0.47
South Lyon
0.51
Avondale
0.52
West Bloomfield
0.54
Berkley
0.56
Huron Valley
0.57
Lamphere
0.58
Oxford
0.61
Pontiac
0.62
Holly
0.68
Waterford
0.73
Clarenceville
0.75
Brandon
0.76
Oak Park
0.78
Madison
0.82
Ferndale
0.87
Hazel Park
0.93


Top 10
0.27
Bottom 10
0.75
Top 5
0.16
Bottom 5
0.83



Table 2: This table lists the 19 Kent County districts including my own Godfrey-Lee Public Schools. You’ll notice that my district is ranked dead last in most of the indicators including the inequity index. Here’s a listing of the school districts and their respective inequity index:
Kent County District
Countywide Inequity Index
Forest Hills
0.07
Caledonia
0.16
E. Grand Rapids
0.26
Byron Center
0.32
Rockford
0.39
Northview
0.41
Kenowa Hills
0.45
Grandville
0.46
Lowell
0.50
Kentwood
0.50
Grand Rapids
0.62
Godwin
0.64
Cedar Springs
0.66
Wyoming
0.70
Sparta
0.72
Comstock Park
0.72
Kelloggsville
0.74
Kent City
0.78
Godfrey-Lee
0.89


Top 10
0.35
Bottom 10
0.70
Top 5
0.24
Bottom 5
0.77

I’ll let the reader draw your own conclusions, but here’s a reminder about some of the factors in our district that contribute to this low ranking, which by the way, represents a significant improvement from the 2010 Top-to-Bottom list:
  • Highest federal poverty rate in the county
  • High free-and-reduced lunch rate in excess of 90%
  •  Highest limited English language proficiency rate in Michigan
  • High percentage of Hispanic students with English as a second language
  • High rate of transiency and influx of new students at all grade levels
  • Extremely low property valuation to support capitol improvements and technology (only six districts in Michigan have a lower SEV per pupil)
  • Crowded, aging school buildings constructed in 1923, 1952, 1988 and 1998 (the high school is the oldest school building in Kent County still used for the same purpose)
  • Severely limited property holdings for expansion of facilities including those used for recreation and athletics
  • Lack of modern facilities found in more affluent districts such as swimming pools, stand-alone soccer stadiums, performing arts centers, multi-use athletic field houses, student commons areas, television production studios, expandable-flexible learning spaces.
While none of these are meant to be excuses or impossible obstacles, to sufficiently meet the state and NCLB achievement goals of all students achieving college-and-career readiness will require extra time, extra support, smaller class sizes, longer school days, longer school years, modern facilities, and 21st century technologies. But, owing greatly to a decade of decreasing state funding leading to draconian general fund budget cuts, our class sizes are the highest they've been in more than thirty years, while the percentage of at-risk students has steadily increased to represent a supermajority of the student body.

Despite the obstacles our students face, we have been cited for recent accomplishments primarily due to the hard work of our professional teaching staff, perseverence of our students, and caring parents:
  • The Early Childhood Center was one of only 20 schools in the state to be cited by the State Board of Education for Beating the Odds in 2011
  • Lee High School was awarded a significant, limited federal school improvement grant that was instrumental in helping move the school up the Top-to-Bottom list and off the 5% persistently low achieving list
In addition, our Early Childhood program is a leader in the county, our enrollment has grown steadily over the past ten years with many families choosing our district over larger neighboring districts, and our district is considered a trend-setter when it comes to innovative practices in the use of technology.


Table 3: This table combines the 47 school districts with the Kent County districts highlighted in yellow. As you can see, Godfrey-Lee and Oakland County’s Hazel Park are at the bottom of the combined inequity index.

Here’s a listing of the combined schools and their respective inequity index when compared to all districts in both counties (Kent County schools are italicized in this list):

Oakland and Kent County Districts
Combined Countywide Inequity Index
Bloomfield Hills
0.04
Birmingham
0.07
Novi
0.11
Rochester
0.15
Troy
0.16
Forest Hills
0.21
Farmington
0.24
Royal Oak
0.26
Caledonia
0.29
Lake Orion
0.31
Walled Lake
0.31
Clarkston
0.36
E. Grand Rapids
0.38
Clawson
0.38
Byron Center
0.39
Avondale
0.39
West Bloomfield
0.39
Southfield
0.44
South Lyon
0.46
Rockford
0.46
Berkley
0.47
Huron Valley
0.49
Lamphere
0.51
Oxford
0.52
Northview
0.54
Kenowa Hills
0.54
Grandville
0.56
Pontiac
0.56
Holly
0.58
Lowell
0.61
Kentwood
0.61
Clarenceville
0.63
Brandon
0.67
Waterford
0.67
Oak Park
0.71
Grand Rapids
0.71
Cedar Springs
0.73
Godwin
0.74
Madison
0.76
Wyoming
0.76
Sparta
0.77
Kelloggsville
0.78
Comstock Park
0.79
Kent City
0.81
Ferndale
0.81
Godfrey-Lee
0.89
Hazel Park
0.90


Top 10
0.19
Bottom 10
0.80
Top 5
0.11
Bottom 5
0.84



Table 4: This table provides a comparison of the inequity index for the top and bottom groups of school districts when sorting for each of the indicators.
Inequity Index by Indicator
Average Inequity Index for… 2010 U.S. Census Fed. Pov. % Ages 5-17 Ave. Total SEV Per Pupil 2009-10 Local & State Revenue Per Pupil 2011 State Top-to-Bottom Ave. Rank Overall Inequity Index
Oakland County
Top 10
0.28
0.30
0.38
0.32
0.27
Bottom 10
0.72
0.72
0.70
0.72
0.75
Top 5
0.16
0.32
0.28
0.16
0.16
Bottom 5
0.78
0.82
0.69
0.72
0.83
Kent County
Top 10
0.37
0.37
0.45
0.39
0.35
Bottom 10
0.70
0.67
0.59
0.67
0.70
Top 5
0.24
0.30
0.31
0.24
0.24
Bottom 5
0.72
0.75
0.62
0.72
0.77
Combined Counties
Top 10
0.23
0.24
0.32
0.23
0.19
Bottom 10
0.75
0.79
0.69
0.70
0.80
Top 5
0.11
0.28
0.24
0.22
0.11
Bottom 5
0.77
0.82
0.66
0.67
0.84



Table 5: This table illustrates a summary of the indices and rankings for the top and bottom groups, along with the mean and median for each county as well as the combined list. In addition, Godfrey-Lee’s rankings are included to provide a comparison with the top and bottom averages. Due to the size of the table, you'll have to go to the link to view it. As you will clearly see, our district's rankings and the inequity index are either lower or very near the bottom average for each.



Here are three observations from the tables:
  • The highest inequity lies in poverty percentage for school-age children in both counties
  • The inequity gaps in Oakland County are generally greater than in Kent County, meaning the span between the most affluent districts and poor districts is greater.
  • The inequity gaps in the combined counties are generally greater than in either county, implying that as you increase the number of affluent and poor districts, the equity gap grows



Where Do We Go?

All I can do is tell the story to whoever will listen and believe me, I plan to keep telling it even if it requires legal action to remedy the problem. Sadly, most of our local media education writers and broadcasters spend little to no time addressing the inequities between Michigan’s most affluent districts and those serving the needs of low-income, immigrant neighborhoods. They have been brainwashed by the likes of boy-billionaires and the Michelle Rhee’s who are expanding their spheres of influence and making a buck at the same time. They have come to believe that reform measures such as firing teachers, cutting salaries and benefits, closing low-performing schools, taking over or consolidating districts, and expanding the number of profit-making charter schools are the only answers to improving student achievement.

Unfortunately, none of these have been shown to improve student achievement. What will ultimately improve student achievement, aka, improve low-performing schools, is equity of opportunity for all students. When we finally get the courage to address this moral issue once and for all, by closing the inequity indices in the tables I’ve laid out, we’ll finally be a nation where equity of opportunity drives our quest to once again have the best educational system in the world.

If only Governor Snyder believed the future of all Michigan's children is as important -- no, more important than his precious bridge to Canada or tax cuts for business. Perhaps then he'd become the first governor in state history to finally address the inequity in school funding.

Related Posts:
Growing Equity Gap in Public Education -- A Primer
K-12 Funding Perpetuates the Inequity of Opportunity


If you would like a complete compilation of my recent blog posts on inequity of opportunity & growing K-12 funding gap in a PDF booklet, it's available free on Scribd at http://t.co/FwJX0tM9