Grand Rapids Public Schools saw five of its administrators take jobs in surrounding districts for “substantially more money” this year, illustrating the inequities the state’s school funding formula creates, District Spokesman John Helmholdt said.

Major fundamental changes are needed to help districts like GRPS that serve a higher percentage of students in poverty or with special needs attract and retain administrators, teachers and staff, Helmholdt said.

“You’re talking about a systemic, institutionalized issue that has really created this situation between the high-poverty, high-needs districts, and the more affluent districts,” Helmholdt said. “This is where we have to look at how our state funding formula has created these inequities, how has it created this us vs. them, and how has it fostered segregation in schools, because you have concentrations of poverty.”

Some solutions to these inequities are offered in a revised study prepared for the Michigan School Finance Resource Collaborative, Helmholdt said, which aims to more accurately reflect the cost of educating students across the state.

The study updates the suggested cost of the base resources needed to meet Michigan’s education standards and requirements, taking into consideration recent developments like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Read by Third Grade Law.

“What we found is that the needs of our schools have only continued to grow, while funding has struggled to even keep up,” School Finance Research Collaborative Project Manager Robert McCann said.

“While federal funding is temporarily filling in those gaps in our state’s K-12 funding model, it’s clear we must act now to replace that broken system with one that meets the unique needs of every school and every student while we have the opportunity.”

The study was released days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced her funding priorities for K-12 education, which include investing hundreds of millions of dollars toward student academic recovery and mental health, with funding to attract and retain teachers, school psychologists, counselors and social workers.

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The updated study recommends an $831 overall increase in the base per-student cost to educate a student. The previous study’s $9,590 per-student cost was increased to $10,421 in 2021, for a large district of 13,590 or more students.

The updated calculation is based on additional costs to educate students living in poverty, those enrolled in special education programs and English language learners, while accounting for expanding access to career and technical education programs.

Those are all priorities in Whitmer’s proposed K-12 budget, Kent Intermediate School District Superintendent Ron Koehler said, including investing funds in students who need them the most through a weighted funding formula that supports additional funding for at-risk students ($20.4 million), special education students ($60 million) and English language learners ($12.2 million).

“While the governor’s budget doesn’t obviously have the resources to address those fully, it does recognize and begin to provide dollars in this as prescribed to help schools meet the needs,” Koehler said.

“That’s extraordinarily important because the requirements for every student in the state are the same, but we know that equal funding doesn’t mean equitable funding, because there are some students who simply don’t have the support that others do.”

The study, which was prepared by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, recommends an increase in the average salaries of various school staff positions ranging from its previous report, including an additional $258 annually for teachers, $1,183 for school aides and paraprofessionals and up to nearly $8,000 more for IT technicians and school security workers.

Panels from the report also recommend additional funding for:

  • Increasing maintenance and operations costs by 15% to $1,265 per student
  • Increasing the base cost per student for software purchases and licenses from $100 to $150 per student
  • Increasing allocation of days per substitute teacher from 10 days to 13 days, while increasing recommended substitute pay from $100 to $150 per day

Helmholdt believes what Whitmer proposed in her updated executive budget for K-12 education is a step in the right direction by bringing the base foundation grant between the highest funded and lowest funded districts to the same level.

Whitmer budget to include K-12 increase of up to $164 per pupil, more funding for higher education

Under the proposed budget, the state would spend $402 million to raise the foundation allowance for lower-funded district by $326 per student and $163 per student for higher-funded districts. The budget invests an additional $262 million in closing the funding gaps between schools in lower and higher-income communities, as laid out in 1994′s Proposal A, which established the minimum per-student foundation allowance.

This would allow most school districts that received $8,111 per student to be on even footing with districts that are able to bring in more than the minimum foundation allowance per-student like Bloomfield Hills School District ($12,364), Birmingham Public Schools ($12,284) and Southfield Public Schools ($11,331).

The state must rethink how it funds schools based on the true cost of meeting the academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of all students, Helmholdt said, as it goes from a nearly $3 billion deficit to a $3.5 billion surplus after receiving American Rescue Plan dollars that will allow it to invest in education.

Whitmer’s proposed budget also invests $500 million for districts to hire and retain more teachers, psychologists, social workers, counselors and nurses, and provide student loan debt relief for mental and physical health professionals who work in high-need districts. Another $500 million is proposed for school infrastructure.

“What Gov. Whitmer proposed with her updated executive budget is one of the best budgets we’ve seen – ever – in that it finally fulfills the promises of Proposal A and brings the base foundation grant between the highest funded, and lowest funded districts, at the same level,” Helmholdt said.

“That was a huge starting point in order for us to now shift to where we know the inadequacy and inequities lie in how we’re funding our highest poverty, highest needs students.”

Koehler applauded Whitmer’s proposed K-12 budget for addressing continued increases in expenses, noting the proposed foundation allowance of $8,692 per student is still more than $1,000 per student less than what the study recommended in 2018.

The recommended funding increases in the report would help Michigan address shortages of qualified social workers, psychologists and school nurses, ultimately helping teachers who are overburdened in the classroom, Koehler said.

“Michigan is so far behind other states in finally providing the resources necessary for schools to have these professionals in their buildings,” Koehler said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to bring more social and emotional supports to students if they’re going to succeed. And when we don’t provide adequate social workers, and school psychologists and school nurses, what happens is it just overburdens the instructional staff.”

To help you navigate this complicated school year, we’re pleased to offer you a simpler way to get all of your education news: Our new Michigan Schools: Education in the COVID Era newsletter delivered right to your inbox. To receive this newsletter, simply click here to sign up.

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