Sunday, June 17, 2012

Open Letter on Michigan's Inequitable Public School Funding

Dear State Sen. Mark Jansen and Rep. Tom Hooker:

Attached you will find a very revealing blog posting (America's Most Screwed City Schools: Where are the least fairly funded city districts? by Bruce D. Baker, School Finance 101) that lists the least well-funded districts in the country centered around large and mid-sized cities. This includes the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Area. It compares state and local revenue and U.S. Census Poverty rates within the same labor market for 60 of the lowest funded districts. As you might suspect, with the highest percentage of school-age children within Kent County living in poverty (37%), Godfrey-Lee ranks very low on this list and is one of only three school districts within West Michigan identified. Godwin Heights and Holland are the other two. Both Godfrey-Lee and Godwin are in your legislative districts and I would think you would find the results of this study to be outrageous.

Based on the data used here -- before the draconian cuts to school aid this past year and with little coming back to us this next year -- Godfrey-Lee receives only 92% of the average per pupil state and local revenue while having a poverty index of 1.81 times the average index within the surrounding labor market. Little in this ranking is news to us at Godfrey-Lee since I have been researching and writing about it going back to January (K-12 Funding Perpetuates the Inequity of Opportunity). In that post, I compared the inequity of opportunity between Godfrey-Lee and the other school districts in Kent County. In subsequent posts, I took a look at the horrific inequities between our district and the affluent suburban districts in Oakland County. In that county, Bloomfield Hills alone receives approximately 40% more per pupil than Godfrey-Lee.

Of course, little has been mentioned of this problem in the main stream media or by our elected officials in Lansing. There seems to be no stomach for confronting this institutionalized inequity and instead, the legislature chose in the 2012-13 budget to merely boost all districts receiving a low foundation grant even if those districts do not have to confront the significant problems associated with poverty, limited English language skills, and transiency. It was laughable that the legislative leaders interviewed actually claimed this as an "equity increase" in funding when in fact, it continues to advance the inequity of opportunities for students attending urban poor schools. It might serve to decrease the "inequality" of school funding, but that is not the same as creating equity.

"Put very simply, districts with higher student needs than surrounding districts in the same labor market don't just require the same total revenue per pupil to get the job done. They require more." ~ Baker

Mr. Baker's organization has produced previous reports on funding inequities and has pointed out that Michigan is one of several states that fails to address the funding problems associated with urban poor districts. This apparently is now being perpetuated by the latest funding bill with no hope in sight for the kids at Godfrey-Lee. The research is very clear that urban poor students and those with limited English language skills require smaller class sizes, longer school days and school years, and access to both remediation and accelerated course work to be successful and meet all of the academic requirements mandated by the state -- and to do it on time. Federal grants are certainly made available to us and other districts like us but they are targeted and very restrictive. They cannot be used simply to ensure every single student has access to a high quality core curriculum and instruction program, including smaller class sizes that will help ensure students' personalized learning needs are met. Federal funds are only available for supplemental supports and are insufficient to meet the needs of a growing population of kids in poverty. Washington is adamant that state and local funds must be used to provide equity of opportunity for our students but those funds have declined by 15% in the past ten years while costs for everything continue to go up.

I implore you to read the attached summary of the findings that Mr. Baker claims will be released in more detail in an update of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card. I also request that you stand up for the kids in our district as well as Godwin Heights by insisting that your leadership stop whatever they are doing to prevent consideration and passage of a more equitable school funding scheme. This is a moral issue that requires an equitable solution if kids in underfunded districts like Godfrey-Lee are to have any chance at substantially competing with our more affluent neighbors.

I and other concerned citizens and leaders in this community will be calling on you this summer to discuss and map out an equitable solution.


David Britten
Superintendent of Schools

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