K-12 Funding in Michigan Continues Decline

The House and Senate Conference Committee has agreed on a final school aid budget for the 2017 state fiscal year (2016-17 school year). The full House and Senate are expected to approve the omnibus package next week.

The K-12 school aid budget will contain a per pupil foundation allowance increase of $120 for our district which I’m sure will be spun as a positive thing by the politicians in Lansing and the uninformed media. But while this represents a $120 increase in 2016 real dollars, as the chart below shows, normal inflation continues to eat away at our basic level of funding. In simple terms, while normal costs have risen over the years since Proposal A changed how our schools are funded, the value of the foundation allowance in 1995 dollars continues to decline.  This makes it impossible to provide the same level of teacher staffing, instructional materials, facilities maintenance, administration and operations that were funded twenty years ago.

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In this chart, the blue line represents the real dollar increase or decrease each fiscal (school) year since 1995. This coming school year will be the first time we’ve equaled or exceeded the per pupil foundation allowance set in 2009, prior to the election of Governor Snyder. However, inflation has taken it’s toll and the value (red line) of this critical per-pupil funding continues to be worth less in 1995 dollars than it was as recently as 2011. In simple terms, the $7,511 per-pupil foundation allowance approved by the conference committee yesterday only has a 1995 value of $4,800.

The slight orange straight lines along both the blue and red are trend indicators that show the increasing gap between current funding levels and inflation-adjusted funding levels. The state legislature is fully aware that this funding decline exists but has taken no significant steps to alleviate the burden on schools despite the fact the state in 1995 took away all of the capability at each district to raise these funds by community elections. The green line shows the per-pupil funding needed each year to ensure that the foundation allowance keeps up with inflationary rising costs. For the most part, it slides downward a little further each year despite the tremendous increase in academic standards and requirements, since the one-size-fits-all Michigan Merit Curriculum standards for graduation were forced on local districts ten years ago.

In poll after poll, Michigan’s citizens have indicated a desire to ensure our schools are adequately supported financially and place education as a top priority. The State Board of Education and State Superintendent are committed to a ten-year plan to make Michigan a top ten state academically. The Governor has now established his second commission on improving education in Michigan. Think tanks and business officials are clamoring for better test results and higher graduation rates. Everyone wants more and thinks they have all the answers. So how is it that such smart people out there think you can actually get more out of our educational system if you slowly but steadily starve it to death?

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And don’t forget, many of those same people forced the unproven concepts of charter schools and expanded school choice on local community school districts, helping to strip away the primary source of per-pupil funding due to a constant drain of students.

Last year, the legislature in one of it’s infamous lame duck sessions mandated a school funding adequacy study be completed by March of this year. Two months later, the study is still not completed and made public. What are they hiding? Why the delay? Everyone knows the study will validate what dozens of other studies and reports have concluded – Michigan does not adequately or equitably fund its K-12 public school system.

 

 

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About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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