Michigan spending on education reaches all-time high this year
Yet, K-12 isn’t reaping the benefits due to overwhelming legacy costs and shifts to higher education.
Gov. Rick Snyder boasted a massive increase in school funding this year, yet K-12 schools complain it’s not enough and that they used to receive even more for their struggling districts.
Both are right, said Jennifer Smith, director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards.
Even though Snyder has allocated more money to the K-12 budget than his predecessor, the drain on that fund for things it didn’t use to cover means local schools can’t keep up with rising costs.
“While there may be more money in the school aid budget, not enough of this money is ending up in the classroom,” Smith said. “Nearly a billion dollars is paying for legacy costs among retired staff members and another billion is funding higher education programs.”
While state education funding has increased since Snyder assumed office in 2011, additional drains are leaving less money for K-12 classrooms.
During the past eight years, Michigan has shifted $4.5 billion intended for K-12 public schools to higher education programs, according to a recent report from the Michigan League for Public Policy.
Since its creation in 1955 until 2010, the School Aid Fund was exclusively used to fund Michigan’s K-12 schools. Following a change under Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration in 2010, more than $3.5 billion from the fund has been spent on community colleges and public universities, according to the report.
The money to fund postsecondary education is supposed to come out of the general fund, Smith said. This is no longer the case.
Snyder’s education funding increases don’t tell the full story, said Peter Ruark, senior policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy and author of the report.
In 2011, the minimum foundation allowance for public schools was $7,316 per pupil. Adjusted for inflation, the foundation allowance today is only $6,780 per student. The per-pupil funding today would have to be $8,234 to equal the 2011 level, according to the report. The allowance today is $7,631.
Legislators need to find a way to adequately fund K-12 education and postsecondary education using money from their respective funds, Ruark said.
“The use of School Aid Fund money toward higher education was a one-time fix that has turned into a habit,” he said. “The amount of money taken out of the fund has only increased over the years, and it needs to stop.”
Another strain on the school fund: Contributions to current and legacy costs of the pension programs have increased every year, Smith said.
Michigan ranks 29th in per-pupil spending across the country, with an average of more than $12,000 spent on each student when including the foundational grant and local funds, according to a 2018 analysis by the Education Week Research Center.
Each district is taking its own approach on how to deal with the lack of funds, Smith said.
“Over the years, we have seen cuts to support staff, lower numbers of course offerings and teachers that haven’t received raises in years,” Smith said.
During the 2019 budget year, a record high of more than $900 million from the school fund is estimated to end up funding higher education rather than K-12 throughout the state, according to the report.