Opinion: Budget battle a chance to fix school funding

Randy Liepa

As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and lawmakers discuss a potential supplemental budget, they have a renewed opportunity to begin the process of addressing Michigan’s broken school funding method that continues to fail students from Detroit’s suburbs to west Michigan to the U.P. 

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to school funding, Liepa writes.

It’s time for our leaders in Lansing to finally embrace what the research tells us: There is no one-size-fits-all way to educate our kids, and a new approach is needed that meets the needs of every child, regardless of location, income, learning challenges or other circumstances.

As superintendent of Wayne RESA, one of Michigan’s largest and most diverse intermediate school districts, I have the opportunity to see school systems large and small, affluent and poor with student populations that represent everyone and have a variety of needs. We see this as a strength, and it allows us to really understand the wide range of challenges schools face. 

Talk to any school superintendent across Michigan, and you’ll soon learn Wayne RESA’s story is far from unique.

Yet we fund our schools as if every student has identical needs as our schools continue to struggle to meet basic student performance standards. This is unsustainable, and Michigan’s students will only continue falling behind without a new, fairer approach to funding our schools.

Thankfully, the School Finance Research Collaborative has provided the roadmap to fix our broken school funding approach once and for all and make it fair for all students.

The collaborative, which I proudly serve on, is a bipartisan and diverse group of business leaders and education experts from all corners of Michigan who agree it’s time to finally change how we fund our schools. 

In 2018, the collaborative produced Michigan’s first comprehensive school adequacy study that determined the true cost to educate a child in our state, regardless of circumstances or whether the student attends a district or charter school. This research wasn’t just about money, but the resources needed to assure all of our students are successful. In other words, it didn’t just discuss how much it costs to operate schools, but how many teachers are needed, how many support staff are required and what materials and professional development are necessary based on research and the voice of professionals doing the work. Read the full report here.  

This new approach to school funding will ensure every Michigan student has the same opportunity to receive a high-quality education that provides them with competitive skills for good-paying jobs.

This won’t be and should not be accomplished in one budget cycle, or even the next few budget cycles. This should be done over several years. But we owe it to all Michigan children to get started today.

Step one must be using the collaborative’s first-of-its-kind research as the building blocks for a new path that helps prepare all students for success.

The supplemental budget under consideration provides an opportunity to take that first step.

Randy Liepa is Wayne RESA superintendent.