New study finds 90% of Michigan students attend schools without adequate resources

In an update to a study from 2018 that provided the most comprehensive look ever at the adequacy of school funding in Michigan, a report issued Wednesday concludes the state is under-funding public education by $4.5 billion.

More than 90% of students go to schools without adequate resources, according to the report co-authored by MEA economist Tanner Delpier with the Education Law Center, titled “What Will it Take to Achieve Funding Adequacy for All Students?”

The state’s school funding is both inadequate and inequitable, the report concluded. The base per-pupil funding amount is insufficient, and “Districts with higher proportions of low-income students as well as rural districts tend to have larger adequacy gaps,” Delpier said.

You can see by how much individual school districts are underfunded in the report’s interactive data viewer.

After numerous studies found Michigan was not sufficiently funding public education, five years ago the School Finance Research Collaborative (SFRC) published the first comprehensive study of what it would cost to deliver resources necessary for schools to help students meet rigorous academic standards.

The SFRC identified specific school resources needed, including small class sizes; student supports, such as counselors, paraprofessional aides, and social workers; health professionals; school libraries; career and technical education; special education; and preschool.

The SFRC recommended a weighted funding system and offered a base per-pupil amount, plus a formula to calculate “weights” to address additional costs to educate certain populations, such as students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and English learners.

The new report from the Education Law Center updates the SFRC per-pupil amount, puts a price tag on the plan – which includes free universal preschool – and improves upon methods for costing out the recommendations down to a district level.

Over the past decade, important progress has been made to improve school funding adequacy and to more equitably distribute those dollars, Delpier said. “But it’s clear much work remains to be done as a state if we’re serious about providing the best opportunities for Michigan’s young people to learn, grow and thrive,” he added.

The new report from the Education Law Center emphasizes the importance of the SFRC’s adequacy recommendations by highlighting current needs and potential benefits. Among the findings:

  • Most Michigan districts need substantial increases in revenue to reach adequate funding. About 77% of all Michigan public school students attend schools in districts that are more than $2,000 per pupil below adequacy. Another 30% attend schools in districts that are more than $4,000 per pupil below adequacy.
  • Certain districts, especially those serving significant numbers of low-income students, are more severely under-resourced. Districts with less than 25% low-income students have an adequacy gap of $1,570 per pupil on average; while those with 25% or more low-income students need over $3,000 more per pupil to be considered adequately funded.
  • Districts in rural areas are on average $857 per pupil further from adequate funding than nonrural districts.
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