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Michigan Schools Need Continued Investments

LANSING – Michigan public schools require continued investments to meet the needs of its students and staff, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) shared at the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education.

Although the state’s public schools experienced the two best back-to-back funding years in state history since Proposal A (1994), comprehensive studies conducted by the School Finance Research Collaborative (SFRC) and others in the last several years indicate that the effort to adequately and equitably fund public schools in Michigan will take years to be fully realized.

“While it’s not all about funding, it is in significant part about funding,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “Funding helps us recruit and retain strong teachers, integral to our children’s growth and learning. It helps us expand high-quality pre-school and secondary programs, including career and technical education programs. It helps us lower class sizes and provide supports for students and staff. It helps us build a comprehensive system of school mental health for our children.

“Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to offer universally accessible pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds is critical,” Dr. Rice added. “Research shows that a year of high-quality pre-school has a significant impact on children’s learning, early literacy, education, and life outcomes.”

In her State of the State address, the governor praised teachers and drew attention to a big increase in the numbers of individuals preparing to be teachers in the state. This number grew 56 percent in a five-year period, from 9,512 in 2016-17 to 14,829 in 2021-22, the most recent year for which official data are available.

The governor also lifted up specific funding and efforts to increase these numbers still further: $575 million in Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) and $448 million in FY24 for, among other programs, the MI Future Educator Fellowships, MI Future Educator Student Teacher Stipends, and initiatives to remove barriers for teachers returning to the profession. Also of note are Grow Your Own programs to help support staff and students to explore the teaching profession and become teachers, as well as funding for the mentoring of educational professionals. Many of these efforts were recommended by MDE. Prior to FY21, there was nothing in the state School Aid Act to address the teacher shortage.

The governor also lifted up universal meals, approved by the legislature and signed into law in the FY24 budget, which permit all K-12 children to have a free breakfast and lunch at school. 

Funding for mental health supports increased from nothing in the state School Aid Act prior to FY19 to $455.8 million in FY24. One thousand more helping professionals—nurses, guidance counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists—are now available to support students in schools compared with 2019-2020.

In the last two years, the per pupil foundation allowance has increased from $8,700 to $9,608 per student, a 10.4 percent increase. Funding for economically disadvantaged students increased by $440 million or 86 percent; for English learners by $14.6 million or 58 percent; and for students with disabilities by $325 million or 360 percent.

A 2019 MSU study by Dr. David Arsen and associates found that, between 1995 and 2015, Michigan ranked last in the nation in total inflation-adjusted revenue growth and third to last in per pupil inflation-adjusted revenue growth.

Though the budgets of the last two years have been extraordinary in the post-Proposal A (post-1994) era, Michigan schools continue to be underfunded annually: by $2 billion on the low end to $6 billion on the high end, depending upon estimates of capital and transportation underfunding. Michigan has begun to work on each of these issues in its state budgets, with a capital study and some capital funding in the FY23 budget and a transportation study and $125 million to reimburse general education transportation costs in FY24.

Total funding in FY 2023 for preK-12 education in Michigan was $24.39 billion, which still falls short of current needs and future projections, as cited in the SFRC.

“The progress that has been made in school districts throughout the state from the FY23 and FY24 budget increases for education has resulted in real change for students and teachers, and we aim to continue this progress,” said State Board President Dr. Pamela Pugh. “All learners should have the very best opportunities and essential resources provided by their school to be able to reach their potential during their school years and beyond graduation. Paying attention to these important recommendations and future studies will help school districts meet complex funding challenges that directly affect our students.”

Goal 8 of Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan is to provide adequate and equitable school funding, which has a direct impact on all other goals in the Top 10 plan, including but not limited to addressing the teacher shortage (Goal 7); improving the health, safety and wellness of students and staff (Goal 3); improving early literacy (Goal 2); and expanding early childhood programs (Goal 1).

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