Michigan governor promises 'bold' school funding formula changes
Michigan’s new governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, devoted a significant part of her first State of the State address on Tuesday to dealing with education funding, vowing to fix the broken system and “give our frontline educators the tools they need to address the literacy crisis,” Chalkbeat reports.
Her remarks come on the heels of a report released by Michigan State University last month that said since 2002, the state had the steepest dip in education funding across the nation, as well as one of the lowest funding levels for students with disabilities, Chalkbeat notes. Critics have been pushing for changes to the funding formula which currently funds schools fairly evenly without much regard for student needs or demographics
- Though Whitmer did not offer specifics as to the changes she expects to make to K-12 funding, she did propose a new scholarship program that would guarantee two years of debt-free community college to qualifying high school graduates. The program would also fund two years of tuition assistance to non-profit four-year colleges for students who graduate high school with a B average.
Michigan, like some other states, has largely funded schools on a per-student basis without much consideration for issues such as poverty or special needs, Chalkbeat notes. Under this type of mode, some states have felt that making up the difference in funding for these other, more individualized factors was best left to the federal government to provide. However, a report released last year examined Michigan's current plan and found it lacking.
According to a Chalkbeat article, the study recommends a "major restructuring" to schools being fully funded and, as a result, would be able to get extra money to provide additional resources to students who need them. The article states: "With that money, schools could offer lower class sizes, add counselors and social workers, and give teachers more support.”
School funding formulas are complex because of the various funding streams involved, each of which comes with different strings attached. Michigan is not the only state to be examining this issue — as states begin to recover from the last economic downturn and are facing more pressure from educators to restore lost funding and find more equitable solutions, more states are reexamining school funding formulas. Rather than relying on property tax rates to determine funding, more states are looking at the needs of a specific school's populations instead.
Finding the right balance to equitable distribution of funds is a challenge each state must face, and school leaders need to make student needs known so state leaders can address these issues. As an article by Urban.org noted, “Whether relying heavily on a funding formula is good for schools and students depends on the state and its goals; there is no one-size-fits-all approach to school funding. States have different aims, different obstacles, and different students, and so must choose the combination of approaches that works best given the situation.”