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School Funding: Where Do We Go From Here?

There’s an ongoing debate about school funding in our state.

The governor and legislators of his party claim they’ve contributed more to education in each of the years the governor has submitted a budget. School administrators and Democrats claim education funding has been cut dramatically.

Both are right. Without doing the math, let me just say the overall amount in the school aid fund today is about $419,000 higher than the previous spending peak this century, which was in 2007. Legislative decisions to divert for other priorities K12 funds that used to go directly to the classroom has suppressed the base per pupil foundation grant – the primary source of K-12 funding — to just under what it was in 2006-07. The high water mark was in 2008, when the grant was $7,316. Today it is at $7,076.

You decide. Instead of arguing about the past, it’s more productive to discuss future priorities.

By any measure, more is expected of schools and students today than in previous years. The Michigan Merit Curriculum high school graduation requirements are far more demanding than in previous decades. The Common Core State Standards, when adopted, will be more rigorous still.

All 20 school districts in Kent ISD recently adopted a new set of goals for their work through the Kent Intermediate Superintendents Association. Those goals are:

  • All students ready for Kindergarten;
  • All students reading at grade level by the end of third grade;
  • All students performing math at grade level in 8th grade; and
  • All students career and college ready upon graduation.

Please note, when we say all, it’s a measure that recognizes students are of differing abilities and some, because of cognitive challenges, are not capable of performing at the same level as others. Those students need more support to simply make it through the school day, but virtually all students are likely to need some additional assistance at one time or another if our districts are to achieve these goals.

Are they worthy goals? The Talent 2025 group headed by the chief executive officers of the region’s largest and most influential businesses must think they are, as they’ve adopted a set of goals for K-12 education that mirror those of the superintendents.

If these are worthy goals, the question over funding is simple. The children who entered first grade this year are the ones who will graduate in 2025. What is an adequate amount of funding to help these students achieve the goals we’ve agreed upon?

One diversion of funds from the classroom this year was to expand early childhood education. That will make it far more likely children enter Kindergarten prepared for school and are on target to read at grade level. That diversion, however, makes it more difficult for districts to provide assistance to preschoolers’ older brothers and sisters, as the funds devoted to their education remain lower than they were in 2008.

Let’s end the debate. This isn’t about adults fighting with adults over money. It’s about making sure children receive the education and support they need to be successful. Every funding decision has an impact on real live students. If we want to make sure the class of 2025 is college ready, let’s stop arguing as if we were in Washington, and get on with the business of determining how best to achieve that goal.

CONNECT

Report to State Board of Education on School Finance

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Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler is the Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent and offers his commentary on issues in education.

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