State Board of Education leaders warn current school funding trends threaten state’s future

The president and vice president of the State Board of Education are working to raise the alarm over the broken school funding structure that is threatening our children’s future.

Writing this week in Bridge Magazine, State Board of Education President John Austin and Vice President Cassandra Ulbrich described a perfect storm that is sending scores of Michigan school districts into deficit. More and more districts throughout the state are being forced to lay off teachers, eliminate programs and close neighborhood schools.

The root of the problem, according to Austin and Ulbrich, is that Michigan’s public school financing model — enacted as Proposal A nearly 20 years ago — is woefully outdated. Designed to reduce funding gaps between districts, Proposal A has instead been overtaken by a fast-evolving education structure that did not exist in the 1990s.

A new report from Michigan State University shows that Michigan’s K-12 funding, adjusted for inflation, has declined 12 percent since 2004. The MSU report points out factors that have only worsened the problem:

  • Revenue once dedicated to our schools has been eliminated.
  • The School Aid Fund, once reserved for K-12 schools, is now being used to pay for higher education and early childhood education.
  • Enrollment in Michigan’s schools has gone down 10 percent, with 70 percent of traditional public schools and 37 percent of charters seeing declining enrollment.
  • Charter schools have proliferated in Michigan, with 277 in operation in Fiscal Year 2013, enrolling over 8.5 percent of Michigan K-12 students. Last year, nearly 30 new charter schools opened, despite a continued decline in overall student head count.

The first step toward tackling the challenge is recognizing the root of the problem, Austin and Ulbrich wrote. Despite popular opinion, only a few districts are in financial trouble because of actual mismanagement or a failure to make so-called “hard choices.”

For the overwhelming majority of school districts, the combination of structural crises, declining enrollment and disinvestment is inflicting a devastating toll on our state’s ability to educate children and prepare them for college and the workplace.

Read Austin and Ulbrich’s column here.