Column: Invest in 21st Century workforce

Doug Maibach

Recently, I was proud to stand with the School Finance Research Collaborative as a statewide group of business leaders and education experts announced the results of Michigan’s first comprehensive school adequacy study.

The Collaborative, a diverse, bipartisan and broad-based group from all corners of Michigan, united in 2016 seeking the answer to one question: What does it cost to educate a child?

While we all come from different backgrounds, we agreed on one fact: The way we fund Michigan’s schools is broken, and we must embark on a new approach to help all students achieve and succeed in the classroom and beyond.

As chairman of Barton Marlow Enterprises, I can tell you our current, cookie-cutter school funding system is failing our students. My company provides construction management, design-build, program management, general contracting, technology and equipment installation services.

Barton Malow relies on our public schools to produce well-rounded, career-focused graduates prepared for jobs and success.

To keep Michigan’s economic comeback going, we need a new game plan to help all students achieve and succeed. To attract large companies like Amazon to Michigan, we must prepare all students with a pre-K-12 education that prepares them for college and careers.

Overall, our study proves what Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission reported: Substantial additional investment is needed to provide all students with a high-quality, 21st century education that prepares them for college and the modern workforce.

The report was conducted by the nation’s top school finance research firms and informed by nearly 300 Michigan teachers, principals, special education directors and other educators.

Key findings include:

■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 includes pension costs at 4.6 percent of wages.

■Charter and traditional public schools should be funded equally.

■It costs $14,155 to educate a preschool student age 3 or 4.

■In addition to the base per-pupil cost, a percentage of the base cost should be provided for special education, English language learners, students living in poverty, programs to provide career and technical education, and an adjustment for funding of geographically isolated districts.

■Transportation costs should be funded at $973 per rider until further study can be carried out.

■Because Michigan’s school district sizes vary widely and small districts lack economies of scale, district size must be taken into account, with funding increases provided for all districts under 7,500 students, which will likely result in serious discussion at the state level about redistricting.

■Career and technical education, which can provide a direct path to employment following high school, should be funded at 10 percent of the base cost or $959 per pupil enrolled in CTE classes.

The research team concluded that additional research will be needed in several areas, including a full capital study to examine the costs of charter and traditional public schools; a review of literate and illiterate poverty, and concentration of poverty by district; and a full transportation-costs study.

Currently, our students are at the bottom in student performance nationwide, and they will only continue falling further and further behind if we don’t address their wide-ranging learning needs.

Our current, obsolete school funding system, developed nearly a quarter century ago, does not recognize the very unique needs and challenges of students in all corners of Michigan.

Our report provides the building blocks for a new school funding system that helps all students meet Michigan’s academic standards, no matter their learning challenges or other circumstances.

With the true cost of educating a student in hand, Michigan policymakers can adopt a new approach that helps improve student achievement, reflects varying student needs, and prepares students for the ever-changing modern workforce.

As a proud Michigan businessman, this report gives me hope that we can do better to prepare all students for bright futures.

Doug Maibach is chairman of Barton Malow Enterprises.