Thursday, February 8, 2018

Governor's K-12 Funding Proposal Doesn't Do Enough

I'm no longer in a school superintendent's seat but that doesn't eliminate my concern as a citizen and taxpayer for the continuing underfunding of our public schools in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder has proposed an increase for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year but it still falls way short of making up the huge $470 per pupil cut implement in Snyder's first year. In fact, as the following slide shows, my former school district lost close to a total of $2 million since that cut. This is a district that serves a high-needs population but receives less per student in the foundation allowance -- the major share of K-12 funding -- than several other districts in the county, as well as several very affluent districts in Oakland County on the east side of the state.

A study mandated by the Republican legislature (which tried to stop the study before it happened and then simply shelved the results when they were presented) found that K-12 funding was becoming less equal as noted by the conservative-leaning Detroit News. The study used a "successful schools" model that concluded the base foundation allowance should be raised immediately to $8,667. In addition, districts like Godfrey-Lee should be receiving additional funding for at-risk and English-learners well beyond that provided by state or federal grants. 

The study failed to analyze the growing need for additional special education funding, a category that has NEVER been fully funded by federal or state governments. Lieutenant Governor Calley put together a subcommittee to review special education funding and in 2017 the group reported:
"...special education funding experienced a 15.6 percent reduction (between) 2011-12 (and) 2015-16. It can be expected that a student in special education will have greater need, and therefore require additional services at a greater cost than a student not in special education. However, state and federal funding do not cover most of those additional costs." (emphasis added)
Because the law requires full services for special education-eligible students, those costs continue to be covered by a school's general fund budget that primarily comes from the foundation allowance. That means less funding for classroom instruction as a whole.

Because the legislature and governor have refused thus far to implement the recommendations of the 2016 study, a second study was initiated and the results were recently publicized. It concludes that:
"The base per-pupil cost to educate a regular education K-12 student in Michigan is $9,590, which does not include transportation, food service or capital costs, and only includes pension costs at 4.6% of wages." (emphasis added)
The study also calls for increases for students with special needs, transportation costs, and for school districts serving less than 7,500 students. When adjusting for inflation and comparing to the foundation allowance in 1995, the study's recommended $9,590 has a value of approximately $6,061 per pupil. Not quite what is needed but it takes a strong step towards closing the gap in lost revenue.

Given the legislature's propensity for personal tax cuts and massive business tax cuts that have little to do with the growing needs of our state or making our Michigan education system a "Top 10 in 10," it's highly unlikely that gap will ever shrink. 

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