Good morning members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on PreK-12 and thank you Sen. Camilleri for the invitation to testify.  

I am Jeff Cobb, Director of Government Affairs for The Education Trust-Midwest, a non-partisan, data-driven, policy non-profit organization. Joining me today are Jametta Lilly, Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Parent Network, and Jose Orozco, a veteran public-school educator and community leader now Executive Director of VOCES in Battle Creek.  

We are all members of the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity, a statewide coalition focused on advancing opportunity and improving learning outcomes for all of Michigan’s students, especially students who are most underserved, including Black and Latino students, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, English Learners, and students in rural and isolated districts.  

Our partner organizations and members span Michigan’s diverse spectrum of civil rights, business, community-based non-profits, parent organizations and other sectors. We share a deep commitment to ensuring that every Michigan student can learn in a high-quality public school and receive the support and resources needed to fully realize their unique potential. 

Let us begin by saying thank you for the work you did last year to improve educational opportunities for students who are underserved. Last year’s budget set the stage for creating a fair funding system that meets the needs of all Michigan students. We truly appreciate your leadership and the commitment you have demonstrated to closing opportunity gaps for Michigan’s students and to supporting the educators who teach and support them.  

Last year, we testified in this same room. We respectfully asked you to consider what Michigan can learn from leading education states’ school funding systems and how such models could help inform Michigan’s efforts to better educate and support students who are underserved.  

We shared research indicating that school districts with particularly high concentrations of poverty face compounded challenges in helping their students succeed. We also shared that despite Michigan having among the highest rates of concentrated poverty in the country, at that time, we did not have a funding formula to address these challenges. We proposed creating an Opportunity Index to account for the differences in student experiences at different levels of poverty — no matter whether a student lives in a rural community, in a suburb or in a town. This type of funding structure supports students and their public schools in a more cost-effective and efficient way—by targeting resources to those who need them most rather than “across the board” increases for everyone.  

You listened, and thanks to your leadership, we are in a much different position this year.  

Today we want to focus on a plan to begin fully funding students from low-income backgrounds and English Learners. This begins with fully funding the Opportunity Index over the next five years and by taking an important step toward fully funding the weights in law for English Learners over the next five years, as well. We are also here to encourage you to fully fund the needs of students with disabilities to ensure these students have access to the services they need to achieve at a high level. 

We would like to unpack these critically needed investments.  

Fully funding the Opportunity Index  

The Opportunity Index was a historic win for students from low-income backgrounds and the public schools and educators who serve them. Indeed, experts and journalists around the country have been making note of Michigan’s new funding structure as one to learn from. This is an important beginning on which to build a fairer funding system for all students in our state.  

Yet Michigan still significantly lags leading states as well as what best practices and research recommend in terms of the funding necessary for success for students from low-income backgrounds. And the Opportunity Index was not fully funded to the goal weights of 35%-47% set in statute. We propose utilizing existing dollars to invest an additional $500 million this year in the Opportunity Index to set us on the path to fully funding the current Opportunity Index weights in five years.  

Finally, we would like to highlight the ways that the Opportunity Index can and should be leveraged for expanding opportunity and access to strong public schools for all children in the state. 

The Opportunity Index can be leveraged to prioritize resources for those districts serving the highest concentrations of students from low-income backgrounds. For instance, we can build upon the teacher salary pilot program created last year by targeting those dollars to schools in Opportunity Index bands 5 and 6 — the bands with the highest concentrations of poverty where at least 73 percent of the student populations come from low-income backgrounds. 

Research shows high-poverty districts face a greater difficulty with attracting and retaining teachers, which exacerbates inequities for students who are the most underserved. By targeting these dollars, we can begin to drive down the number of teacher vacancies and long-term substitutes in these districts. We would be happy to share more about this concept at another time.  

Increased investment in English Learners  

We are also grateful for your increased investment in English Learners in last year’s budget, which showed what we can accomplish when we focus on addressing the needs of students who have long been underserved.  

Last year you also put into law new funding weight goals of 35%, 50% and 75%. This was a good step forward toward acknowledging that the state is dramatically under-investing in these students.  

However, despite last year’s funding increase, Michigan still allocates only between about 1.7% and 15.4% more funding for English Learners, depending on their English language proficiency, than for students with English as their native language.  

Compared to states like Maryland, which is phasing in a weight of 85%, and Georgia which now allocates about 160% more funding to English Learners, Michigan’s investment in English Learners remains startlingly low.  

Unfortunately, Michigan has long underfunded English Learners leaving these students at a large disadvantage compared to their peers. In fact, according to an analysis by The Education Trust-Midwest, Michigan has ranked among the lowest in the nation in funding for English Learners — 26th out of 31 states with similar funding systems in 2023.    

Last year was a start toward ensuring English Learners have the investments they need to succeed.  

To build upon that, we recommend that the state fully funds the weights that are now in state statute over the next five years, which would mean investing an additional $57 million annually.  

This year, at minimum, we should take an important step toward reaching that goal by doubling the amount of funding in this year’s budget for English Learners from just under $40 million to at least $80 million. This is still far off from where we need to be, but it sets a path towards fully funding these students’ needs. 

Students with Disabilities 

Michigan also chronically underfunds needed services for students with disabilities. Due to Michigan’s partial reimbursement system — which is uncommon compared to other states’ approaches to funding special education — Michigan districts shoulder much of the funding responsibility for students with disabilities but have varying capacities to cover these costs. As a result, students with disabilities are being shortchanged.  

We thank you for your work last year in providing a full foundation allowance for students with disabilities. This was long overdue. The next step is to re-examine the current funding model for these students to ensure they are getting the services they need to achieve at their highest potential.  

I am now going to turn it over to Jametta Lilly to share more on why it is urgent that we invest an additional $500 million this year in the Opportunity Index.  

Good morning, again my name is Jametta Lilly. I serve as the CEO of the Detroit Parent Network, a Detroit-based parent organization that supports parents to make Detroit a better place to raise and educate children.  

Today I want to focus on why it is so important to prioritize investment in the Opportunity Index. A high-quality public education is essential for both a healthy democracy and for flourishing in a globally competitive economy. Yet, that is not the reality for many of the students in my community and in all regions and communities across Michigan.  

Research shows that a child’s reading proficiency predicts future academic success, as well as future employment success and lifetime earnings. It is the difference between preparing a child to succeed in our country — or not.  

In fact, according to one study, Michigan’s K-12 students’ lifetime earnings could increase by an estimated $27 billion if their educational achievement matched the national average. And yet consider what national data tell about how children in Detroit are learning compared to children in Boston, for example. In 2022, Black students in Detroit scored 24 points below their peers in Boston, and the gap was even wider – 29 points, or almost three grade levels – for students from low-income backgrounds.  

The differences between our state’s student learning outcomes and the outcomes in Massachusetts – a leading education state — are not a reflection of Michigan children’s ability to learn at high levels. Indeed, our children are just as bright and capable as the children of other states. However, unlike Massachusetts, Michigan underinvested in its students and public schools for more than two decades.  

The good news is that this legislature made great strides in last year’s budget through the creation and first-time investment in the Opportunity Index. This was a big win for students from low-income backgrounds in every region of the state.  

Now we need to fully fund the current Opportunity Index to the levels that are now in law. In many districts, fully funding the Opportunity Index would make a crucial difference in their ability to have the capacity needed to fully support their students and educators. Additionally, there is great urgency needed to ensure all of our students are making up their lost learning from the pandemic.  

I know you want to do what is best for students. Your actions spoke to that commitment last year. I am asking you to build on that momentum. Thank you.  

Good morning, Senators. I am Jose Orozco, Executive Director of Voces, and a long-time West Michigan educator. Voces is a Latinx community of greater Battle Creek and Southwest Michigan that supports and empowers our community. Our name, which means “voices” in Spanish, was chosen to represent our mission and goal of “Many Voices, One Community.”  

Michigan’s Latino community has deep roots in our great state. Our community has been here for more than a century and like all of you, we want what is best for our children. Yet often, the newcomers to our community – like other immigrant communities — do not have access to the same educational opportunities as others. Our children can achieve at high levels if given the support and resources they need to learn at high levels. Increasing funding for English Learners is the first step toward providing that opportunity.  

Today, I come to you as both an advocate and a father. I have experienced firsthand the difficulty of accessing resources within our local schools. I know many families who face challenges ensuring that their child receives a high-quality public education. This is often not the school district’s fault but rather the continuation of a school funding model that dramatically underinvests in English Learners.  

English Learners come from all over the world as immigrants and refugees, and they speak many different languages. International immigrants are the one population group that is predicted to grow in Michigan over the next few decades, according to a report released by the Citizens Research Council. 

We have an opportunity to invest in the families moving here so Michigan can be seen as a welcoming state that offers a great public education for all students. 

Research recommends English Learners receive at least twice as much funding as native English speakers to provide them with the additional instructional supports necessary for language acquisition. This investment helps propel children new to our great state to be able to much more quickly succeed in not just school but also contribute to the Michigan economy as business owners, educators, and many other roles.  

According to an analysis by The Education Trust-Midwest, Michigan is currently underfunding English Learners by at least $486 million annually. The 50 percent increase in funding for English Learners last year was the first significant increase for these students in decades. Thank you.  

However, as Jeff said earlier, the new weights are still underfunded, resulting in startingly low actual investments in these students. To fully fund the weights now in state law over the next five years would necessitate an additional $57 million annually.  

This year, we should take a key step toward reaching that five-year goal by doubling the amount of funding in this year’s budget to at least $80 million.  

This is still far off from where we need to be. The weights in law are still below what research recommends and leading states practice, but this investment would set us on a path towards fully funding these students.  

Thank you again for the opportunity to share our funding priorities. To provide some examples of this, I would like to quickly walk you through what fully funding the Opportunity Index will look like for districts across the state:    

  • Grand Rapids       
  • Harrison    
  • Jackson 

To recap, we recommend the following:       

  • Utilizing existing dollars to invest an additional $500 million this year in the Opportunity Index to set us on the path to full funding in five years. Fully fund the weights for English Learners over the next five years and take a key step toward that goal this year by doubling the state’s investment from $40 million to at least $80 million.  
  • Reexamine the broken funding system for students with disabilities. 

Thank you again for your leadership and your commitment to investing in public education and students.  

We are happy to answer any questions you might have.