Report: Michigan should invest more in low-income, vulnerable students

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan should invest more in low-income students, rural students and vulnerable students rather than focus on increasing across-the-board, per-student funding, a nonpartisan research and education advocacy group announced in its latest report on Thursday.

The Education Trust-Midwest’s new report says with Michigan in the bottom five states for equitable K-12 school funding, the state should change its education funding system, which awards money per-pupil regardless of individual student need, to a weighted funding system to improve outcomes for students who are special needs, low income, in isolated rural districts and learning English in school.

The Education Trust-Midwest’s new report says with Michigan in the bottom five states for equitable K-12 school funding, the state should change its education funding system.

Low incomes are defined as those eligible for free or reduced-price meals, officials said.

Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, said the state’s education spending policies ignore the fact that it costs more to educate children who start with disadvantages, and that certain rural districts have special challenges such as transportation costs or low enrollment.

Michigan can learn from the nation’s top education states, such as Massachusetts, not only for improving teaching and learning but also for how to create a fair and equitable education funding system, Arellano said.

"Doing so will boost incomes for graduates, reduce need for government assistance and increase our state’s talent pool for employers,” Arellano said. "For the sake of our children and our economy, we need to examine the data and follow best practices to create an education finance system that is adequate and equitable for all of our students."

Specifically, the report is calling for Michigan to provide at least 100% more funding for students from low-income backgrounds, provide at least 75 to 100% more funding for English learners and provide additional funding to support students with disabilities.

It also calls for requiring districts to develop and publish a plan for how they will use funding as well as annually publish information about how the funding system is designed to work.

The report says research shows spending increases done well can improve educational attainment, particularly for students from low-income families and other underserved student groups. If Michigan’s current K-12 students had educational achievement at the national average, their lifetime earnings could increase by $27 billion cumulatively, according to the W.E. UpJohn Institute for Employment Research.

In December, the Launch Michigan campaign released its “Phase 1” proposal for statewide educational reform, which includes a weighted funding formula that would give extra per-pupil funding for students in poverty.

Last year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for the state to switch to a weighted-funding formula that builds off the foundation allowance and includes additional funding per student for those with more costly education needs.

Whitmer's proposal called for $102 million to increase support for economically disadvantaged, academically at-risk students, which would provide an estimated $894 per eligible pupil and $120 million to increase state reimbursement for special education services, which is an increase of four percentage points over the current level of 28%.

State lawmakers did not approve Whitmer's weighted funding formula proposal. Instead, they approved raising the minimum per-pupil foundation allowance from $7,871 per child to $8,111, a $240 increase. Districts getting the maximum foundation allowance saw a $120 increase.

Officials with the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education said the report once again highlights Michigan's significant underfunding of its K-12 schools and validates the findings of the School Finance Research Collaborative report, which called for overhauling Michigan's one-size-fits-all K-12 funding formula and adopting a weighted funding model that recognizes the specific needs of each individual classroom and student.

"While we appreciate these studies that further highlight Michigan's underfunded K-12 classrooms, we continue to be frustrated that those empowered to fix it in our legislature continue to ignore the problem as it only grows larger," said Mark Greathead, alliance president and superintendent of the Woodhaven-Brownstown School District.

"The School Finance Research Collaborative's groundbreaking study from two years ago has definitively shown that Michigan's school funding formula is outdated and broken and it's time for the legislature to finally abandon it and invest in a new system that adequately funds the unique needs of each and every student in our state."


School funding by students from low-income families

Top six: 1. Utah, 2. Ohio, 3. Minnesota, 4. New Jersey, 5. South Dakota, 6. Georgia

Bottom six: 1. Illinois, 2. Missouri, 3. New York, 4. Alabama, 5. Michigan, 6. Rhode Island

Source: The Education Trust