Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Response to the Michigan Education Finance Act of 2013 Project

Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder recently requested that the Oxford Foundation head up a project to completely overhaul the state's educational funding system. In reviewing the project elements provided in a memo during a public meeting on the project, little was mentioned regarding the blatant inequity of Michigan's K-12 funding which recently took a hit in a national report card on school funding.

Because Godfrey-Lee Public Schools is a district whose students suffer because of inequitable funding, I sent a letter to Mr. Richard D. McLellen, Project Director, outlining our concerns and providing a comprehensive bibliography of studies that support our district's position. The letter is excerpted here along with the complete bibliography:

In announcing your project and highlighting Governor Snyder's K-12 initiatives, equitable funding to support students based on need did not appear to be a priority or even a consideration in designing a new Finance Act of 2013. This was my primary motive for addressing my concerns and providing the enclosed references for your team. A new funding system will be morally bankrupt if it does not provide for the added supports and resources necessary for children living in poverty, homeless, struggling with the English language, dealing with the fallout of transiency, or experiencing disabilities, to succeed on par with their more affluent peers. I've taken the liberty of enclosing a bibliography containing a number of studies, including my own, right up to the most recent conducted by the Mackinac Center in hopes that the project team will take these into account during your work.

Both I and other members of our staff and community would be more than willing to provide additional information and testimony to support the good work of your team. Like you, we see the benefit of a new school finance system that is "based primarily on the interests of the student" (Oxford Foundation memo dated July 9, 2012). 

VanBeek, Brown, and Mills (2012) The Michigan Public High School Context and Performance Report Card. The Mackinac Center. "...provide a better "apples-to-apples" comparison of public high schools by adjusting their students' average standardized test scores to account for disparities in the socioeconomic status of their student populations."
Baker, Sciarra, and Farrie (2012) Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card. Second Edition. Rutgers University and Education Law Center. "The report is based on the assumption that 'fair' school funding is defined as 'a state finance system that ensures equal educational opportunity by providing a sufficient level of funding distributed to districts within the state to account for additional needs generated by student poverty.'"
Baker, Burce D. (2012) America's Most Screwed City Schools: Where are the least fairly funded city districts? School Finance 101. "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....The districts in these tables not only don't have the "same" total state and local revenue per pupil than surrounding districts. They have less and in some cases they have a lot less! In many cases their child poverty rate is more than twice that of the surrounding districts that continue to have more resources."
Education Trust-Midwest (2012) MME Test Results Show Achievement Gaps Growing Among Michigan High School Students. Briefing report. "Results from the Michigan Merit Exam -- the test taken this spring by Michigan 11th graders -- show that African-American and low-income students are falling even further behind the state's white students.  While white achievement has risen slightly over five years, scores for black, Latino and poor high school students remain grim."
Britten, David G. (2012). A Tale of Two Counties and the Inequity of K-12 Funding in Michigan "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."
Ibid. (2012). We know what needs to be done, so why isn't it getting done? "...charts compare Bloomfield Hills School District, arguably the wealthiest in Michigan, with Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, one of a handful of the poorest school districts with high poverty and low English language proficiency. One compares high school reading test scores while the other compares revenue. You draw your own conclusions."
Mulligan, Hastedt, and McCarroll (2012) First-Time Kindergartners in 2010-11: First Findings From the Kindergarten Rounds of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (ECLS-K:2011) National Center for Education Statistics. "In the fall of kindergarten, reading and math assessment scores were lowest for first-time kindergartners in households with incomes below the federal poverty level and highest for those in households with incomes at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level. First-time kindergartners with a primary home language of English scored higher in reading and math than those coming from homes with a primary home language other than English."
Mazur, Rebecca J. (2011) Expanding Education Gap Linked to Income Inequality. The Harvard Crimson. Nov Issue. "...over the past 30 years, increased disparity in family income levels has resulted in unequal educational attainment for students."
Campbell, Haveman, Sandefur, and Wolfe (2005) Economic inequality and educational attainment across a generation. Focus Vol. 23, No. 3 "It is now clear that the century-long improvement in educational attainment in the United States slowed or declined over the same period during which economic inequality increased."
Baker, Bruce (2012) Revisiting the Age-Old Question: Does Money Matter in Education? The Albert Shanker Institute. "On average, aggregate measures of per pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher  student outcomes. Schooling  resources which cost money, including class size reduction or higher  teacher salaries, are positively associated with student outcomes. Sustained  improvements to the level and distribution of funding across local public school districts can lead to improvements in the level and  distribution of student outcomes."
Duncan and Murname (2011) Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances. Russell Sage and Spencer Foundations. " ambitious interdisciplinary project examining the  corrosive effects of economic inequality, disadvantaged neighborhoods, insecure labor  markets, and worsening school conditions on K-12 education."
Epstein, Diane (2011) Measuring Inequity in School Funding. Center for American Progress. "Low-income children tend to be concentrated in low-income school districts, and these children often attend schools that receive far fewer resources per pupil despite their greater need. Inequity among districts means that children in lower-funded districts do not  have access to the same resources—modern buildings, technology, highly effective teachers, supplemental supports, etc.—than do their peers in districts with  higher levels of funding. Furthermore, low-income children and English language  learners need extra resources to overcome disadvantages due to socioeconomic status or lack of English language proficiency. In many cases, not only are these children not receiving equal resources but they are also not receiving the extra  supports they need in order to succeed."
Biddle and Berliner (2002) Unequal School Funding in the United States. ASCD Educational Leadership. Vol 59 No 8. "Reluctance to provide equal funds for U.S. public schools has also been fueled by claims from prominent researchers, reviewers, and others asserting that the level of funding for schools does not affect student achievement. Not surprisingly, such claims often come from sources that are traditionally hostile to public education."
Berliner, David C. (2009) Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. "Because America's schools are so highly segregated  by income, race, and  ethnicity, problems related to poverty occur simultaneously, with greater frequency, and act cumulatively in schools serving  disadvantaged communities.  These schools therefore face significantly greater challenges than schools serving wealthier children, and their limited resources are often overwhelmed. Efforts to  improve educational outcomes in these schools, attempting to drive change  through test-based accountability, are thus unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by policies to address the OSFs that negatively affect large numbers of our nations' students. Poverty limits student potential; inputs to schools affect outputs from them."
Britten, David G. (2012) K-12 Funding Perpetuates the Inequity of Opportunity  "...Michigan's school funding system perpetuates inequity of opportunity and promotes a continuing cycle of poverty. The people who determine the course of school funding are our elected representatives and they bear the brunt of the blame for perpetuating a cycle of impoverished school districts and inequity of opportunity for students. Unfortunately, many of our legislators that block any efforts to reform K-12 funding to make it more equitable come from areas that include affluent communities and districts that are financially well off in comparison. Right now, they control the agenda..."

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