Education funding in Michigan has dropped more than any other state in the country. That’s according to a 25-year analysis from Michigan State University’s College of Education. The study shows Michigan’s public school financing is nearly 20 percent lower than it was in the 1990s – while nearly every other state in the U.S. has increased their funding over the same period. The lead author of the MSU study, David Arsen, tells WDET’s Eli Newman that the last quarter-century of school funding has been defined by Proposal A, which was passed by voters in 1994.
On the effect of Proposal A
“It had two main objectives. One was to lower property taxes. The second was to lower the funding gap between the high and the low revenue districts. In order to do so, voters agreed to shift the responsibility for funding schools from local districts to the state. So the state has been in control of most school funding for that period. Our argument here is that Michigan has tried to improve schools on the cheap, focusing on more accountability and choice policies, but to make those policies effective, they have to be matched with adequate funding. We’ve been kidding ourselves to think we could move forward without cutting funding for schools.”
On the relationship between school funding and student achievement
“The evidence is quite clear now, that increased funding is clearly associated with improved student performance. Funding for public schools in Michigan has fallen more sharply than any other state over the last quarter-century. Once you adjust for inflation, we’re at about 82 percent of where we were in 1995. No other state besides West Virginia is below where they were in 1995, we’re distinguished in that. In Michigan, the state GDP is higher than it’s ever been. The issue is that we’re devoting a lesser share of the state economy, a lower share of our income, to supporting K-12 schools a generation ago, or even a decade ago.”
Recommendations from the report
“It would cost an additional three to four billion dollars above what Michigan is currently spending [to address current funding needs.] The important thing to note is that we could pay for the adequate funding if we were willing to tax ourselves at the level that prevailed in Michigan scarcely a decade ago. If we just had the average level of tax effort of the nation as a whole, we would be able to provide adequate funding for Michigan schools. It’s only because we have reduced our commitment to public education so dramatically in the last decade that we’re in this situation.”
How bad is the current situation?
“I hate to say this, but things are not good in Michigan schools. We have dedicated educators all across the state. They are being discouraged by the lack of resources. But between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, you have the greatest concentration of experts in teaching and learning in just about any state. The issue here is that we are not establishing a foundation of funding support that enables the educators, the researchers to do the work they need to do. It’s important to work and we’re not providing the resources for them to do it.”
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