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Michigan’s Latest Budget Could Help Achieve Equity in School Funding

Detroit Free Press
July 6, 2021
Lily Altavena

A tidal wave of funding will hit Michigan schools this year, between federal funding and a record state budget.

State lawmakers passed an unprecedented $17.1 billion budget on Wednesday, and federal COVID-19 relief funding will also send billions to schools.

The latest budget hikes per-pupil funding in the state to $8,700, closing a persistent funding gap between Michigan school districts that state lawmakers for years have tried to incrementally close.

“We need to make sure we get schools the help they need to get everyone back on track and into a healthy mindset again,” state Sen. Rick Outman, R- Six Lakes, said. “I believe these funds will help make major headway toward that goal.”

Education advocates hailed the massive infusion of funding, but said the state’s work on the funding system is unfinished.

While the new budget may mean the state is close to achieving equality in funding, they said achieving equity — the idea that many vulnerable groups may require more or different resources to receive an adequate education — would take a complete overhaul of the school funding formula.

Funding gaps in education

The legislation, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign, puts money in several different buckets for education. Along with the $8,700 per pupil, the funding includes:

The equal per-pupil funding from the state doesn’t mean all districts are now funded equally. Districts in wealthier areas can lean on local property owners to supplement funding still needed to improve buildings, among other uses.

McCann’s organization advocates for a funding formula that accounts for need in funding schools on a per-student basis. Under that plan, the funding formula would account for factors such as poverty, special education needs, and other factors.

“We have this one-size-fits-all formula, no one agrees that it works, but we continue to use it,” he said. “Until we get away from that, we’re never going to be quite where we need to be.”

Schools are also getting federal pandemic relief funding to address learning gaps caused by the pandemic. Detroit Public Schools, for example, has $1.2 billion to spend.

But it’s important for lawmakers to contemplate what to do when the funding dries up, especially because academic and mental health repercussions of the pandemic could stick around for years, said Brian Gutman, director of external relations with EdTrust-Midwest.

“As significant in dollars as the federal stimulus is, it isn’t a long-term solution,” he said.

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