Education funding targeting vulnerable students rather than whole districts deserves discussion


Gov. Rick Snyder released details of his budget spending plan for the next fiscal year, targeting June approval by the Michigan legislature. The plan advocates shifting $325 million of general funds to road and bridge repairs, addresses contaminated site cleanup, water and sewer infrastructure improvements, unintended federal tax consequences and the largest increase in per-pupil school funding increase in 17 years.

As in many past editorials, the Business Journal notes the state’s continued sinking of public and charter school students into the abyss of failure and notes the frustration of affecting test score improvements. Report after report, state or national, shows Michigan near the bottom in student achievement rates. The Business Leaders for Michigan 2017 benchmark report was another to rank Michigan 46th in fourth-grade reading level, 37th in eighth-grade math, 42nd in career and technical education enrollment, 29th in college and career readiness and 30th in higher education attainment.

To that point, the Business Journal notes the long effort of the School Finance Research Collaborative, a group of 22 business leaders and education experts, the subject of an in-depth report in the Business Journal. The study, funded by organizations including the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the C.S. Mott Foundation, identified key issues concerning public funding for Michigan K-12 education but moves beyond the issue of underfunding. The study results argue some children — such as those with special education needs, English language learners and students living in poverty — need more resources to be successful in school.

The report advocates per pupil/school state funding should be targeted to the most vulnerable populations, rather than by whether a district is higher or lower funded by its district taxpayers, as was initiated by Snyder.

Ron Koehler, an assistant superintendent for the Kent Intermediate School District, said the purpose of the study was not for educators to simply ask for money; it was meant to take a closer look at how to meet educational standards and reduce the decline in performance. He told the Business Journal the current “one-size-fits-all” funding method is not working.

The 358-page report includes school data and input from nearly 300 public and charter schools around the state.

The Business Journal encourages legislators to include such findings as school funding resources — and needs — are considered in the coming months.

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