Hundreds attend School Funding Summit
Next step: Overhaul broken system
Hundreds of educators, school board members, administrators and others attended a School Funding Summit Friday in Lansing.
The first part of the day featured presenters who provided information about the importance of investing in Michigan’s children, basic information about how school funding works now, and state demographics. In the afternoon, participants listened to experts discuss why Michigan’s school funding system is broken and what the state can do to ensure that it doesn’t fail students.
“We’re here to talk about school funding,” said Ray Telman, executive director of the Middle Cities Education Association, a consortium of urban school districts. “But what we’re really talking about is Michigan’s future and Michigan’s children.”
The event was sponsored by MEA, Middle Cities Education Association, and SOS! – Save our Students, Schools and State, an advocacy group promoting the replacement of the current K-12 funding system with one that is more equitable and stable.
Originally billed as a “critical issues” conference, the event was reorganized to focus solely on funding because of the ongoing budget crisis.
“The lack of adequate, equitable, stable funding is a major stumbling block,” said MEA President Iris K. Salters.
Summit presenters included experts on education, the economy and public policy. They explained how Proposal A of 1994, while reducing funding gaps among school districts, has led to unstable aid for schools, a problem exacerbated by a years-long state recession that continues to disrupt the economy.
“The good old days are gone,” said Doug Drake, a senior policy analyst at Public Policy Associates.
Since 1994, the state School Aid Fund has provided nearly all K-12 funding. After years of state foundation grant increases, schools have now gone through years of flat- to reduced grants. This year, lawmakers cut school aid by $165 per student.
Other significant problems with a negative impact on school funding include declining enrollment and the enactment of numerous tax exemptions that reduced growth potential for school aid.
What remains at issue is whether Michigan citizens and lawmakers will support a change – and, what that change would look like. Several panelists at the summit argued in favor of extending the sales tax to some services; some suggested that the overall sales tax rate of 6 percent could be lowered if it applied to more goods and services.
“Economically, it’s a slam dunk,” said Charles Ballard, an economics professor from Michigan State University.
Patrick Anderson, president of Anderson Economic Group, described Michigan’s current tax policies as “ridiculous” and said the state needs a more competitive tax structure.
MEA Executive Director Lu Battaglieri said some may question whether it’s possible politically to overhaul Michigan’s school funding system.
“It better be,” he said. “We’re talking about the future of our kids and our state.”
Other speakers included John Burkhardt of the University of Michigan; former state Rep. Lynn Jondahl; Mike Addonizio of Wayne State University; Larry Rosen of Public Policy Associates; and Jim Ballard of SOS! – Save Our Students, Schools and State.