Michigan’s School Funding System Leads to Gaps in Opportunity

Policy changes can lead to a fairer school funding system

Michigan is one of the most inequitable states for school funding, leading to profound opportunity and achievement gaps for the state’s most underserved students.

Michigan ranked in the bottom half of states for all student performance in 4th and 8th grade reading and math on the most recent national assessment. By one estimate, the lifetime earnings of Michigan’s current K-12 students could increase by $27 billion if their educational achievement matched the national average.

Those were among the sobering statistics that Mary Grech, senior data and policy analyst for the Education Trust-Midwest, discussed during a presentation on inequities in public education funding for a virtual town hall hosted by United Way for Southeastern Michigan this week.

Grech gave an overview of Michigan’s education performance and how funding equity is essential to addressing the longstanding structural challenges and inequities that have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s critical to take a hard look at the inputs to our education system. It is not students being less capable than their peers across the country or their peers within the state. It’s about ensuring students have the resources and supports they need to reach the high standards we know that they are capable of reaching,” Grech said.

Grech noted that creating a fair school funding system will necessitate prioritizing investment in Michigan’s highest needs and most underserved students.

“There are major challenges around funding equity, and we have to address those as we work towards a ‘new normal’ where our state performs much higher across every group of students.”

Funding equity is the idea that the amount of money that a school receives to educate a child should be based on meeting the learning needs of that child. A wide body of research shows that it costs more to educate some students because of the supports that they may need to reach their full potential. This is particularly true for educating students from low-income families, English learners and students with disabilities.”

Unlike most states in the nation, Michigan allocates fewer dollars on average to Michigan’s poorest school districts compared to the state’s wealthiest school districts, she said. Yet, Grech noted how Michigan’s funding system also presents great opportunity at the state level to allocate dollars differently and invest in students with higher needs.

During the forum, she talked about ways state policy could be changed to create a fairer system of school funding that provides opportunities for all students to achieve at high levels. Those include five principles of equitable funding that Michigan legislators should commit to so that Michigan school funding supports the learning needs of all students:

  1. Provide funding according to student need.
  2. Provide more funding to districts with lower fiscal capacity.
  3. Ensure dollars are used well to improve student experience and outcomes.
  4. Be transparent about the system’s design and monitor funding districts actually receive.
  5. Provide transparent data on funding going to schools.

When asked what parents could do to address funding equity in their districts, Grech noted how important it is to have a voice in how decisions are being made in local districts and the role data can play in informing families of district decisions and potential inequities.

“It’s important to have good information about how dollars are being spent. Our state level leaders can play an important role in providing transparency and holding districts accountable for spending the dollars they receive on the students they are intended for,” Grech added.

“Sign the fair funding pledge, get informed, lift up your voice and make sure that it is clear that funding equity is a priority for you,” Grech said, citing opportunities for participants to engage in transforming the state’s unfair funding system.

Read more about ETM’s recommendations in its report, Michigan’s School Funding: Crisis and Opportunity, here.

The 2021-22 Free Application for Federal Student Aid has launched

Families should apply early, college experts and federal education officials say

With the increased economic pressure on many families due to the COVID-19 crisis, it’s especially important for families to consider applying early for the financial aid.

Federal officials recommend that new and returning students who plan to attend college between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid as soon as possible. The FAFSA for 2021-22 launched on October 1. The FAFSA is a common application used for determining eligibility for public financial aid, as well as many institutional and private scholarships and grants.

Students and parents can complete and submit the form online at on a desktop or mobile device.


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