State school budget supports success

There is no question that access to a quality education helps students achieve their full potential, build a brighter future for themselves and make positive contributions to their communities.

And, yet, Michigan has gone from being one of the top states in the country for educational outcomes to one of the lowest as a result of years of disinvestment.

In fact, Michigan was ranked 42nd — among the bottom 10 states in the country — in education in the most recent national KIDS COUNT Data Book. And, from 2019 to 2022, the percentages of fourth-graders not proficient in reading and eighth-graders not proficient in math increased, going from 68% to 72% and 69% to 75%, respectively. That is roughly three in four Michigan students that are not proficient in reading or math at those grade levels.

While it’s clear that more must be done on the education front here in Michigan, there is reason to be hopeful, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature have made some significant strides over the past two budget cycles to make stronger investments in students, with an important eye toward equity.

The Fiscal Year 2024 bipartisan education budget recently signed by the governor includes many positive things that we here at the Michigan League for Public Policy are celebrating, including the largest increase in per-pupil spending in Michigan’s history, a heavier weight in the school funding formula for students from low-income backgrounds, English-language learners, and students with disabilities, support for teacher recruitment and retention, and investments in wraparound supports for students, with a focus on addressing opportunity gaps.

Those strong investments will go a long way toward supporting students in every corner of Michigan, including students in Alpena, Montmorency, Presque Isle, and Alcona counties, where third-grade English language arts proficiency has declined over the past five years — similar to the state as a whole — and where there have been higher-than-average rates of students who are not prepared for college.

Alpena-area students will also benefit from $125 million in new transportation funding in the 2024 budget, which will help students living in rural areas get to and from school while ensuring more money stays in rural classrooms.

Of course, one of the biggest education budget wins from our perspective here at the League is the heavier weight in the school funding formula, which includes a $13.3 million increase — totaling $39.8 million — for students learning English and a $140.3 million increase in special education funding, which will provide 100% of the foundation allowance amount — up from 75% in the current year — to schools serving students with disabilities.

The budget also makes history, as Michigan becomes one of the first 10 states to enact an opportunity index, which will result in stronger investments — with a goal of meeting 35% to 47% of the foundation allowance amount — in the public education of students who are academically at-risk in school districts with high concentrations of poverty. For this year, the budget includes a $204.5 million increase — totaling $952 million — to meet that purpose.

The League has long advocated for a true weighted school funding formula to help address the current deep disparities in educational outcomes in Michigan, and the state’s latest budget agreement brings Michigan one step closer to achieving that.

Another bright spot in the state’s most recent budget agreement is the $160 million investment to provide free breakfast and lunch to all 1.4 million public school students in Michigan — a move that will help combat food insecurity in the state while also supporting Michigan families with low incomes and helping students to receive the nutrition they need for better health and greater academic achievement.

While there is much to celebrate in the 2024 education budget, it’s important that we keep the momentum going.

As a new budget cycle begins again this October, our state leaders must continue to build on those strong investments and continue to look for new, innovative ways to ensure all students in Michigan — regardless of race, place, or income — have access to the support they need to be successful in school.

Rachel Richards is fiscal policy and government relations director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.


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