Opinion: Educators deserve more funding

Paula Herbart
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Unions learned an important lesson decades ago: collective action gets results.

Tuesday, educators from the Michigan Education Association and American Federation of Teachers Michigan — along with parents, students, and other public education supporters — descended on the Capitol to urge legislators to “Value Students, Respect Educators, and Fund our Schools.”

The #RedForEd movement is resounding across the country. Mass protests have resulted in increased funding for public schools that have been underfunded for decades. Here in Michigan, studies have documented that dramatic underfunding and the corresponding decline in student achievement.

We now have a governor willing to fight for adequate and equitable funding to support students.

In light of Michigan State University's study showing Michigan dead last in education funding increases over the last 25 years, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed the largest investment in public schools in a generation. Students deserve — at a minimum — Whitmer’s additional $500 million to help them succeed.

The foundation allowance would increase by as much as $180 per pupil, which would start closing the nearly $2,000 per pupil gap identified by the School Finance Research Collaborative study last year.

Just as important though is the governor’s recognition that it does not cost the same to educate every student. The “weighted funding formula” in her proposed budget provides big increases in areas where resources are needed most — at-risk programming, special education, and career/technical courses. SFRC’s study reinforces the need for extra funding in these key areas. Recently, the diverse Launch Michigan coalition of education, business and philanthropic groups reached consensus that a weighted funding formula is the right approach to address these needs.

Helping students learn to read also gets a big boost in Whitmer’s education budget. Reading is the key that unlocks learning for a lifetime. Under the new third grade reading law, students who are more than a year behind in reading by the end of third grade face the prospect of being held back. The governor’s budget triples the number of literacy coaches to help struggling students achieve.

Increased funding means smaller class sizes and increased one-on-one attention teachers can provide to their students. It means more school counselors, social workers and librarians—positions that were eliminated under past funding cuts. It means new textbooks and technology, and more basic supplies needed to help students succeed.

The Whitmer education budget truly is a game changer.

But hard work lies ahead in convincing lawmakers to meet the challenge and approve this transformational education budget — especially in enacting new revenue that stops Lansing shell games that take money from students to fund other political priorities.

Whitmer has been doing her part. She crossed the state this spring, visiting classrooms and speaking with educators about the importance of making this budget a reality.

Education employees across the state are stepping up to help. Beyond rallying at the Capitol (another of which will be held June 25), educators are speaking up in their communities with parents, political activists, and business and civic leaders. Every Michigan citizen has a stake in our public schools and addressing the dire needs facing our educators and students.

With a collective voice, we can take that first step by adopting Whitmer’s education increases.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.