Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fact-Based Arguments over School Funding in Michigan

There will be many online and media-based arguments in the coming weeks regarding funding for K-12 public education in Michigan. I thought it timely to post a few facts that may help clarify positions on both sides of these arguments.


  • While the Governor may claim that total education funding is up under his "leadership," most of that has gone to the state retirement system that was devastated by a declining number of payers into the system due to state policies on charters and emphasis on privatizing more services. In addition, the ill-advised early-retirement incentive in 2010, a declining school-age population, and the Great Recession had their impacts as well. Note that none of these conditions were created by districts, schools or teachers.
  • A growing share of the state's School Aid Fund (SAF), that was intended only for K-12 schools when Proposal A passed more than twenty years ago, is being diverted for use by community and four-year colleges as well as through a shell-game to move general fund dollars away from the colleges for other uses. Like our federal representatives in Washington, DC who find the social security trust fund a nice piggy bank to use for other purposes, our state legislators can no longer resist taking SAF funds away from public school kids to fund their own initiatives. It's a slippery slope that's likely to get steeper.
  • While the state and NCLB have mandated the curriculum standards that must be tested every year in grades 3-8 and 11, the minimum graduation requirements (Michigan Merit Curriculum), college-readiness indicators (ACT now but SAT starting in 2016), and the gold standard of every child graduating from high school within four years of entering the door, they do nothing to fund schools equitably so that every child regardless of their zip code has an equitable chance of achieving those results.
  • Michigan's Constitution has no standard of "adequacy" let alone equity prescribed for funding public education. Therefore, no studies have been done to determine the level of funding needed to achieve the state and federal mandates I indicated in the previous bullet-point. As a result, while the state has taken historically extraordinary steps to mandate the programs and standards for school districts, it has no idea how much funding is needed for each child, regardless of their circumstances, or each school district regardless of it's circumstances, to achieve those results. Thus, any argument against at least funding the current structures consistent with the rate of inflation and growing number of mandates is a moot point. At a minimum, a standard should be studied and developed that stipulates what a "constitutionally adequate education" costs for each child ensuring that district size and location, concentrations of economically disadvantaged and limited English speaking children, and variations in regional labor costs be taken into consideration.