Monday, February 4, 2013

The Insanity of Continuing Inequity

You’ve probably heard this said before, but insanity is continuing to do the exact same thing over and over while expecting different results. I sometimes feel that our school district is caught in this type of maddening cycle, with ever-increasing expectations and obstacles that prevent student success while receiving declining financial support from our state legislature.

We’ve operated with a continuing deficit in our budget for the past five years. Costs have risen through normal inflation, student learning needs have expanded, state mandates have increased, and yet our current per-student funding from Lansing has fallen to 2005 levels. This has forced us to cut a number of programs, services and material support for the classroom while trying our best to keep class sizes small and avoid laying-off teachers. But because the state continues its stance of providing less funding, we are finding it very difficult to avoid reducing the number of teachers, cutting more programs, and expanding class sizes.

The state took over funding of public schools like ours back in 1994 when the voters approved “Proposal A” that year. Prior to that, our district would periodically ask the voters in this community to approve an increase in the operational millage if more funding was needed to meet higher costs. Besides taking over the funding responsibility, the state has also increased graduation requirements dramatically and under the federal No Child Left Behind laws, also mandates high proficiency rates on the annual MEAP and MME tests. Yet, the state has done nothing to improve school funding and provide equitable resources, including school buildings, technology, science labs, and other facilities. As a result, there are school districts in Michigan that get as much as 35% MORE in state per-student funding than Godfrey-Lee.

Here’s an example of the unfairness in school funding perpetuated by our leaders in Lansing.  In 2010-11 (the last year the state provides financial information for each school district), Godfrey-Lee received $9,594 in state and local funds for each of our students, while a certain district on the east side of the state received $17,338 per student. That equals 81% more funding per student for a district that is property-rich in a county that has a paltry 4% poverty rate for children ages 0-17, while the Godfrey-Lee community, fifth lowest in property values in the entire state, struggles with a 34% poverty rate (highest in Kent County). Something is not right yet our elected officials in Lansing continue to bury their collective heads in the sand.

We have just begun a new legislative session in Lansing and unless our senators and representatives hear from all of us, this unfair school funding will continue despite all students being expected to achieve the same college-and-career-readiness standards. Your voice will make a difference but only if you speak out.