Guest Column

There are many concerns regarding Michigan’s schools

February 14, 2014
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In recent weeks, we've seen a lot of public bickering over whether we are spending more, less, or the right amount on education, and for what results.

There is a lot to be concerned about. As I point out in the speech I recently delivered on school finance to Ann Arbor’s Rotary Club, Michigan was once a leader and innovator in providing free, high-quality K-12 education and high-quality higher education accessible to all. But since then, our state has downgraded our commitment to public education.

Have you seen the numbers? Michigan has cut 16 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars for K-12 education. Over the past 10 years, Michigan made a 29 percent real reduction in higher education support, which we are just beginning to turn back with Gov. Rick Snyder’s latest budget proposals.

We have big structural flaws in the way we are organizing and funding schools. Michigan is allowing new schools to proliferate without controlling for quality. We’re stretching our state financial support thin with the varied costs of educating children in different settings and the very different performance outcomes we get from different teaching approaches.

As a result, our schools are degraded and our educators are demoralized. Fifty Michigan school districts are in the red; some schools are closed, others are cutting arts, music and counselors. Teachers have been laid off, crowding more students into the remaining classrooms. And most importantly, our kids aren’t learning and are falling further behind. Michigan’s NAEP scores are way behind most states, and all our sister Great Lakes states are improving faster than we are.

We must overhaul the way we organize and finance education. Twenty years have passed since Proposal A brought the last funding change for our schools. That dated finance formula, funding cuts and destructive new school creation policies have cracked the foundation of Michigan’s education system.

That’s why the State Board of Education is dedicating itself to a year of critical and public examination of our education system, to make thoughtful recommendations for change.

The State Board of Education is asking you: What’s broke in Michigan? What can we learn from other states doing better? And how do we fix it?

Please share your ideas because we need them. Michigan can do better.

John C. Austin is president of the State Board of Education, director of the Michigan Economic Center and a nonresident senior fellow with Brookings Institution. He can be reached at (517) 373-3902 or jcaustin@umich.edu.

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