Never before in modern U.S. history has there been a more important moment for our state to commit to supporting all of our students, by recognizing every child’s innate capacity to learn at high levels, no matter the color of their skin, the language they speak or their ZIP code.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan’s legislative leaders already have demonstrated important leadership for their ongoing efforts to make smart and thoughtful investments to support students and their families during the COVID-19 crisis.

Indeed, the emerging School Aid Budget framework announced in recent days reflects the difficult decisions that legislators made to avoid devastating cuts to schools and students overall in an urgent fiscal crisis driven by COVID-19. We applaud the bipartisan efforts to prioritize public education in this moment of urgent decision-making.

As details are finalized, we must continue to prioritize funding for learners who have been most impacted by the social and economic inequities that were exacerbated by the school closures, including students of color, low-income children, English learners and students with disabilities.

A recent McKinsey analysis estimates that America’s students will fall seven months behind on average, while the losses are expected to be far greater on average for low-income, Black and Latino students. Black students may fall more than 10 months behind on average, while Latino students may fall more than nine months behind. Low-income students could fall more than a year behind.

And as we look toward future state budget cycles in the coming months, the urgency will continue for all Michigan leaders to keep in mind the long-term goals of investing in vulnerable students’ needs – and addressing the structural inequities in Michigan’s school funding system.

A thoughtful bipartisan focus on equity will be necessary, especially to avoid worsening the opportunity and achievement gaps that were prevalent long before the school shutdowns this past spring.

Michigan is already among the nation’s most inequitable and unfair states for what the state invests between poor and affluent schools, resulting in devastating opportunity and achievement gaps for vulnerable children.

Now more than ever, the holistic needs of Michigan students need to be made a priority. Research shows that socioemotional learning and academic development go hand in hand – and ensuring all students, especially vulnerable students, have access to both takes real commitment to equity and investment.

In our recent analysis, “The Time is Now: COVID-19 and Fair Funding,” The Education Trust-Midwest outlines strategies for making Michigan’s education system more fair as decisions are made about school funding.

Those include prioritizing and investing in public education funding for the success of our students and for the future prosperity of our state, first and foremost, while increasing funding, or at least keeping funding stable for vulnerable student groups. The state budget should also incorporate greater transparency and accountability so that dollars earmarked for low-income and other vulnerable students actually reach their classrooms.

Our state leaders have already shown the tremendous impact they can make for our most vulnerable families when they work together to prioritize education and children in need.

As Michigan moves forward, this is the time to commit to a fairer funding system that moves our state from its position as one of the least fair states for educational opportunity to a global leader in education that provides an opportunity for all students to achieve at high levels.


Guest commentary by Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest as appeared in Bridge Michigan.