Guest Column

Michigan’s school funding approach needs a facelift

April 19, 2019
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As president of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research for 25 years, I witnessed a growing gap between the demands of the modern workforce and the skills of students graduating from Michigan’s K-12 public education system.

This gap is bad for our kids, bad for business and bad for Michigan.

Michigan’s schools continue to struggle to meet student achievement standards, putting our students and businesses at an immediate disadvantage in a global economy that demands a skilled workforce more every day. When I first came to Michigan in 1993, Michigan was one of the top-achieving states. Total revenue per pupil, graduation rates and student scores on standardized tests all were above the national average. Today, they are woefully below. In fact, Michigan ranks among the lowest 10 academic achieving states in the country.

Clearly, Michigan’s pre-K-12 school funding approach is broken and moving in the wrong direction. Our current school funding method, which was enacted a quarter of a century ago, continues to fail our students as they try to gain the skills needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow. We can no longer bang our collective heads against the wall and hope for better results. Our pre-K-12 funding system must become more flexible and provide the resources that all students need to achieve. Today, our pre-K-12 funding is egregiously inequitable.

It’s time for a new, more equitable school funding approach that meets the individual needs of all students and prepares them for in-demand jobs. The School Finance Research Collaborative, which I proudly serve on, has provided a roadmap for fixing Michigan’s broken school funding method and providing all students the same opportunity to get a good education and compete for well-paying, 21st-century jobs. It should be obvious it will cost more to educate students with different needs and from different backgrounds, but we as a state cannot afford to wait another quarter century to come up with a new plan to adequately fund pre-K-12 education.

In 2018, the collaborative delivered Michigan’s first comprehensive school adequacy study that determined the true cost of educating a child regardless of income, geography, learning challenges or other circumstances. The collaborative is a diverse, bipartisan group of business leaders and education experts from all corners of Michigan who all agree: It’s time to fix Michigan’s broken school funding approach and make it fair for all students.

A major contributor to Michigan’s talent gap is a lack of skills to fill thousands of skilled trades jobs across the state. The collaborative study calls for additional funding to increase access to career and technical education programs that provide students with pathways to careers. The collaborative study also recommends providing additional support staff, including more school counselors, special education and English Language Learners instructors, school psychologists, school nurses, tutors and others who play a critical role in helping students achieve and succeed.

The collaborative has provided the building blocks for a new school funding method that provides all students with the same opportunity to compete in the modern workforce.

Now is the time for action to provide all students with the opportunities for college, careers and prosperous futures they deserve.

Dr. Randall Eberts recently retired as president of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research after serving in that position for more than 25 years. He also is a School Finance Research Collaborative member.

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