Governor Rick Snyder released the details of his proposed budget this week including funding for K-12 education for the next school year. It makes sense that the Governor would claim that he is proposing a 3% increase in school aid since this is an election year and any politician wants to paint a rosy picture to garner support. But the facts are the facts and I’m going to set the record straight.
The Governor’s proposal includes an additional $150 million for foundation allowance increases ranging from $83 per pupil to $111. At the same time, he proposes paying $783.9 million into the state school employees’ retirement system, or MPSERS as it’s known. We are grateful for the additional funding going directly into MPSERS and reducing the growing burden on school districts, especially since none of the conditions that created the problems with the state retirement system were caused by school districts or our students. In fact, haphazard state policies such as rapidly expanding charter schools, pressures to privatize services, and the recent early retirement incentive have harmed the retirement fund along with the poor investment performance. Districts have nothing to do with any of these management and policy issues. They are the responsibility of our elected leaders but schools and students are left paying the price.
That said, let’s take a closer look at the Governor’s proposed increase in the foundation allowance, which represents the majority of general school aid used not only to provide every student with access to a core academic program designed to make him or her college and career ready, but to operate classrooms, schools and the district at large. And it’s important to understand that during Governor Snyder’s first year in office (2010-11 school year), the foundation allowance was cut by $470 per student. This school year, our district gained back $60 and it’s estimated this fall, if the Governor’s proposal is enacted into law, we might gain back approximately $100. Well, not really.
Our foundation grant in this year is $7,064. Why we receive that much is a topic for another discussion because Michigan allocates funding to school districts based on no sound logic. The district also received $52 in one-time funding in return for agreeing to a handful of “best practices,” none of which support higher levels of achievement. Once our budget was in place, we also learned that we would receive $70 per student in one time funding as a “reward” for achieving certain scores on the MEAP and MME tests. We don’t really know how that money was earned because the state doesn’t really share the methodology in any understandable format. Needless to say, that funding wasn’t identified during our budget planning so we weren’t able to build it into our school improvement plans. That’s the irony of “reward” funding since it has little impact on reducing the barriers to higher level academic performance, but it’s something this legislature and governor really love.
Taking all of this into account provided us with $7,186 in per pupil funding to operate our core academic programs, transportation, administration, technology, and facilities upkeep. This “increase” in per student funding equated to $182 per student, but only $60 was guaranteed as the rest was identified as “one time” funding only. Remember, we started out three school years ago with $470 per student less which over that time period equated to a total loss in per-pupil funding of $1,410. If you add inflation to the mix, there’s no logical way that any additional funding received this year can be categorized as an increase.
We are projecting that the Governor’s new budget proposal may provide an additional $100 per student so I’ll use that here to illustrate the impact for this coming fall. First of all, it would raise our foundation allowance to approximately $7,164 per student. If we add the “one-time” best practices funding in, which the Governor claims he will continue for another year, that will be an additional $52 per student. I cannot add back the academic achievement reward funding because we will not know if we will receive it until they crunch all the assessment numbers and produce the results. Therefore, in our budget and staffing planning this spring and summer, we can only count on $7,216 per student to fund our core academic programs. Comparing that to the current year’s funding results in a per-pupil increase of only $30 which, given our expected enrollment, does not provide enough funding to hire back even one additional teacher.
Obviously, there is a lot of work left in Lansing before any K-12 school aid budget is signed into law and we’ll be watching this work very closely. The fact still remains that despite four years of inflation and growing costs to educate a significantly high at-risk student body, our per-pupil general funding next year, as well as the previous three years, will continue to be lower than it was back in 2006-07. Since then, our student enrollment has grown by more than 300 (18.6%), our classrooms and schools have become more crowded, the percentage of our students coming from impoverished homes has risen to 38% (highest in the county), and the portion of our students struggling with limited English proficiency has grown to 42%. But sadly, none of this is ever considered by Lansing when appropriating general school aid funding for our schools.