Letter: Step 1 in school reform is funding research

As the Detroit News accurately pointed out in a recent editorial, “School reform lacks unified vision, April 22,” ever-changing public education policy has led to a dizzying array of information for policymakers, local school boards, educators and parents to sift through.

The first step toward achieving that unified vision is an independent, bipartisan look at how we fund Michigan’s public schools so every student, regardless of his or her background, has the opportunity to become college and career ready.

After all, without the most complete and most accurate information on what it truly costs to educate all students, how can we expect our policymakers to create meaningful reforms?

Having worked for two Fortune 500 companies, it amazes me we as a state haven’t done the research necessary to inform education discussions. Like successful businesses, schools need a plan for success. But every plan must begin with research.

The stakes are high. I hear constantly from fellow business owners who live and die on the ability to fill the cutting-edge jobs that keep Michigan’s economy going that we need to act. And our schools play a key role in developing and attracting the top-notch talent to grow Michigan’s businesses and fill the cutting-edge jobs of tomorrow.

More than two dozen states have conducted comprehensive school funding studies since 2003 as a first step toward reforms. Thanks to the School Finance Research Collaborative, Michigan will soon be added to that list.

The Collaborative, a broad-based, bipartisan group of business and education experts from Metro Detroit to the U.P., is supporting a new, comprehensive adequacy study using multiple methodologies to reexamine how we fund both traditional and charter public schools. Results of the new study are expected by mid-January of 2018.

Once accurate, reliable and comprehensive data are available, the Collaborative will share this critical information with Michigan policymakers, stakeholders and the public at large.

This work will be done without any political or preconceived notion on how to provide all public school students with a high-quality education that prepares them for the competitive 21st century workforce.

For Michigan’s economic comeback to continue, we must prepare all students for jobs, technical education and college so they are primed for success and ready to enter the workforce. Yet before we can do that, we have to do the research necessary to guide the way forward.

Jim Stapleton, Regent Emeritus, Eastern Michigan University, Michigan Businessman