Here is the full text of my remarks during a press conference today on the front lawn of Lee High School:
I have the privilege of leading a tremendous team of well-qualified educators. I’ve been an administrator in the Godfrey-Lee district since 2002 and superintendent for the past six years. I grew up in this community and attended schools here.
In my time serving in the district I’ve seen more and more kids, through no fault of their own, growing up in homes where parents are struggling to make ends meet, often working two or three low-wage jobs just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Many of our students are first and second generation immigrants whose parents decided to raise them here because of the high-quality public education we’re capable of providing. Nearly 25% come to us through Schools-of-Choice because they like the atmosphere and personal care of a smaller district. But because of decades of disinvestment in public education made by our state legislature, especially over the past four years, we’re failing to deliver as hoped for each and every one of them.
State funding for our core academic programs has been cut in recent years and over the past 20 years has failed to keep up with rising costs due solely to inflation.
Kids in our district are hard working and capable of learning but they face greater barriers to success, often starting out two to four years behind in their education. And because many come with limited English language skills, they need more instructional time and specialized training for our teachers.
As I’ve stated, we know our students can be as successful as students in any other district, and we can help make sure that they are, but that’s much more difficult to do when Lansing continues to slash funding to our schools and perpetuate an inequitable funding system. It’s meant that class sizes have gotten substantially larger, but we don’t have the resources to reverse this. Class sizes in our elementary schools have gone from on average eighteen to twenty in a classroom to anywhere from 25 to 30. Two-thirds of our middle school this year could have upwards of 34 students in several of their classes.
This graph illustrates that results on state 3rd grade reading tests are correlated to the percentage of students growing up in poverty. The yellow circle represents Godfrey-Lee 3rd graders.
Additionally, our district has not been able to purchase new textbooks or replace outdated ones for the past seven years, nor are we able to provide even more high quality training and coaching for our teachers to help overcome the barriers of poverty and limited English proficiency. We’re not alone in being short-changed by our state legislators, as education funding has been cut in most other school districts across the state to a level that is inadequate to reach the lofty college and career readiness goals for every child.
We know beyond a doubt that when provided adequate and equitable resources to meet the needs of every student where they are at, they can be successful. Research by Rutgers University’s Bruce Baker has proven this point for a number of years and has singled out our school district for being one of the most unfairly financed districts in the country.
Godfrey-Lee is one a handful of districts in the country deemed unfairly funded by their states, and has been on this list since 2009. Baker, Bruce D. America’s Most Financially Disadvantaged School Districts and How They Got that Way: How State and Local Governance Causes School Funding Disparities. Appendix C. July 2014
We’ve proven the fact that school funding matters. Lee High School received a substantial federal school improvement grant that provided the instructional resources, additional learning time, additional teachers, as well as extensive staff training and coaching over a three-year period. During that time, the high school went from the bottom of the state’s Top-to-Bottom rankings all the way to performing better than 63 percent of schools in the state. It was identified by MDE as a model for effectively using additional funding to close achievement gaps and elevate student learning. Those funds, which amounted to an additional $2,200 per student per year, were exhausted after three years and many resulting programs, particularly extended learning time, could not be sustained. Subsequently, the school slipped to the 11th percentile this past year.
Funding does matter, especially when it comes to providing equitable learning opportunities for kids. It’s time for our elected leaders to show they have the right priorities for our children’s future by making greater investments in our public schools. But beyond that, leaders in Lansing also need to prioritize allocating more aid to districts who are struggling with greater needs to ensure that every child in Michigan has the opportunity to succeed.