Time to overhaul Michigan’s arbitrary school-funding model

As chairman of Barton Malow Enterprises, I can tell you firsthand Michigan’s businesses rely on our K-12 schools to prepare students for the real world and careers in the global economy.

Unfortunately, long before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan has failed to invest in a K-12 school funding approach that meets the individual needs of all students and positions them for success.

The pandemic has shined a bright light on the enormous inequities and lack of fairness in how we fund our schools that limit opportunities for students to one day compete for jobs.

The public health crisis has also shined a huge spotlight on the glaring disparities already in place due to our obsolete school funding approach. One example is the digital divide, which magnifies the lack of access to technology and broadband across our state. How can we prepare students for 21st century careers if they don’t have access to 21st century technology?

Another example is our state’s continued lack of investment in career and technical education programs that prepare students for in-demand careers in the skilled trades.

Here’s the good news: The pandemic has provided a rare opportunity to reassess our priorities, which must begin with our kids. It’s time for lawmakers to adopt a new school funding approach that gives all students a shot at success.

The School Finance Research Collaborative has provided the roadmap to get us there, whether students are bound for college, technical training, apprenticeships or jobs right after graduation. The collaborative is a broad-based, bipartisan group of business leaders and education experts from all corners of Michigan who all agree: It’s time to fix Michigan’s broken school funding approach.

In 2018, the collaborative provided Michigan’s first comprehensive school adequacy study. The study determined the true cost to educate a child in Michigan, with a base per-student amount and additional resources for special education, students living in poverty, English language learners and CTE programs.

By adopting this approach, Michigan can leave behind an arbitrary school funding model that treats all students as if they have identical needs.

The collaborative is part of a growing chorus of bipartisan voices calling for a new school funding approach that meets unique student needs. Over the past few years, numerous other school funding reports have reached the identical conclusion, including those issued by former Gov. Rick Snyder, former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Michigan State University professor David Arsen and Business Leaders for Michigan.

There’s no question about it: Our economy is contracting, and with that comes the likelihood of significant school cuts. Worse yet, cutting the budget would hamper a safe return to school and likely worsen growing inequities in our schools.

That makes it more important than ever to heed the collaborative’s research, and there has never been a better time to ensure every penny spent on our schools is dedicated to helping students succeed.

In the coming days, Michigan’s K-12 students will return to school, either in person, remotely or a combination of the two. In all cases, our kids will only continue falling behind without a new school funding game plan that helps all students succeed, regardless of learning challenges, income, ZIP code or other circumstances.

We owe it to our kids and Michigan’s economic resurgence to make this critical investment today.

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