Fair Investment: The Time is Now to Equitably Invest in Michigan’s Students

By Jennifer Mrozowski

As the conversation intensifies in Michigan and nationally on how to plug budget shortfalls due to the COVID-19 economic crisis, it’s critical that leaders prioritize education and the future of our students.

Today begins a periodic series exploring the six recommendations in our recent 2020 State of Michigan Education Report, A Marshall Plan: Reimagining Michigan Public Education, outlining national and state-level solutions to support student success, address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and offer best practices based on demonstrated evidence from around the country and state.

Our first recommendation is on fair investment.

In any budget decisions, we recommend that policymakers prioritize dollars for education, first and foremost, which is critical for building Michigan’s future talent force, and shield the state’s most vulnerable students from drastic cuts.

At the same time, we recommend leaders consider long-term solutions that will bring a more equitable approach to Michigan’s school funding system, including a formula that weights students’ and communities’ needs, as the nation’s leading education state, Massachusetts, has done.

Specifically, Michigan needs to invest much more in all of its students statewide, while investing significantly more in low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities, who have long been short-changed, said Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest.

In just one estimate, return-to-school costs associated with COVID-19, including health screenings of students and staff, as well as personal protection equipment, could tally $1 billion for Michigan schools.

Those costs must be considered, in addition to decades of under-investment that place Michigan’s students behind. For instance, more than half of Michigan third graders already were not reading at grade level before the COVID-19 crisis, and nearly two-thirds of seventh graders were below grade level in math on Michigan’s most recent annual state assessment.

“Our schools are struggling greatly to improve key predictors of Michigan students’ future lifetime earnings and academic success,” Arellano added. “The learning outcomes of rural, low-income, African American, Latino and immigrant children are not simply the concerns of communities of color or the Upper Peninsula. This is about Michigan’s future economic success — and whether all Michigan’s children will have the skills they need to succeed in the global economy.”

Our report notes that the State of Michigan historically has drastically underfunded support for students with disabilities, low-income students and English learners, who need more support and resources for their additional learning needs. Michigan ranks as one of the worst for equitable school funding. Now, after months of distance learning and anticipated learning loss, the need to invest in Michigan’s vulnerable students is even greater.

Read about all of our recommendations here.

Leaders: Don’t Shortchange Michigan’s Most Vulnerable Kids

Key civic and business leaders have joined the call for Michigan to invest in its students. If budget cuts are necessary, these leaders believe equity in funding must be an utmost guiding principal.

Read this opinion piece in the Detroit Free Press by Mike Jandernoa, founder of 42 North Partners, David E. Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative officer of DTE Energy and Kylee Mitchell Wells, executive director, Ballmer Group – Southeast Michigan.

“Michigan doesn’t have to remain near the bottom. As a state that values its rich diversity and is renowned for its innovation, we need to reinvent the way we fund our schools so every child has an equal opportunity for a vibrant life and our employers have a workforce that helps our state to prosper and grow.”

Events This Week

Tune in: This Thursday at noon, join Brian Gutman, director of external relations for the Education Trust Midwest, for COVID313 Community Coalition Townhallsfocused on supporting parents, students, and families during the Coronavirus outbreak, available on Detroit Public TV.

Tune in: This Thursday at 6pm, join Brian Love, director of community outreach for the Education Trust Midwest, for Community Connections in the Age of a Pandemic, a digital town hall focused on systemic racism in education. Hosted by TAKE ON HATE and ACCESS, and available on Facebook.

Sign the Pledge: Show your support for fair school funding

Budgets reflect priorities, so what does Michigan school funding say about our values?  Today, Michigan is one of the bottom five states nationwide for equitable school funding. We are failing to provide equal opportunity for student success.

The impact of this fundamental unfairness falls hardest on students with the greatest needs: those from low-income families, English language learners, students with disabilities and those attending schools that are isolated, or are in areas with high concentrations of poverty or low property wealth.

Our future as a state rests on the shoulders of our children and our children deserve better.

Sign the pledge to support equitable school funding!

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The time is now to have fair and equitable school funding in Michigan. We encourage you to share this message on your social media platforms.