Report: Michigan schools need funding boost

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan should boost funding for public schools although they all shouldn’t receive the same amount of money, according to a new report financed by private foundations that was released Wednesday.

Not all Michigan schools should get the same amount of money from the state, according to the School Finance Research Collaborative, whose report calls for potentially dramatic education funding shifts.

The report calls for a base per-pupil cost of $9,590. While spending formulas are complex and vary by district, it would be an increase over the $7,600 and $8,300 in annual state per-pupil funding that most schools will receive in 2018.

The study also calls for additional funding for special education, technical career training, English as a second language classes and the state’s smallest, rural districts where it costs more to educate children. The report was financed by the W.K. Kellogg, Charles Stewart Mott and Skillman foundations and 22 county or multi-county school districts.

The study is a more comprehensive update to a similar education cost report released in 2016 that Democrats demanded as part of a 2015 compromise on road financing.

Funding every student at the same level across the state does not take into account the unique challenges and extra costs that some districts face, said Bob Moore, the report’s research director. For example, larger rural districts have to spend more money on transportation, and poverty brings additional challenges not faced by students in the state’s wealthier districts.

“The funding does not have a rational basis related to the needs of each child,” Moore said. “It is not responsive. And the inequities are gross.”

Moore and other education groups that are part of the collaborative are calling on lawmakers to overhaul education funding policy to pay for the extra education costs identified in the report, which did not propose potential solutions.

Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature cut the minimum foundation allowance by $470 in the 2012 budget, partially due to reduced federal appropriations. But the governor and lawmakers have increased the foundation grant by more than the initial cut during the last five years and have added money to cut into education pension contribution deficits in districts.

The report calls for charter and traditional public schools to be equally funded and argues that it costs more than $14,000 to fund a preschool student who is three or four years old. It also urges a base of $973 for students who use public transportation to attend school.

Mary Kay Shields, president of CS Partners, the state’s largest public charter school company, called the report a “fair game plan that includes all public schools in the state of Michigan.”