- Sponsorship -

State Supe: ‘We Have to Invest in Education’

State Superintendent Brian Whiston recently spoke with School News Network reporter Charles Honey about the Michigan Education Finance Study, which was released earlier this summer, and other school funding issues. Following are edited excerpts from their interview.

SNN: What are the most important things you think came out of the report?

Whiston: It talks about the continual need to look at equity, to make sure a zip code doesn’t determine the offerings that kids have, but that all students have access to high-quality programs with lots of options. (I am) very supportive of the notion of taking kids in poverty and kids in ELL and giving them additional funding. (In Massachusetts,) the legislature and governor and business community invested heavily in the schools in exchange for some reforms. I think we ought to look at that same kind of structure. Those are three things I’m taking from the study and saying we need to have further conversations on.

The study did not look at special education and the problems we’re having in terms of (funding) facilities. Some communities can put a mill (in property taxes) out there and do a lot, and some communities put 10 mills out there and raise no money. There’s got to be a fairness where maybe the state equalizes that somehow. At some point we need to deal with that.

The report talks a lot about continuing inequities among districts. What is your thought as to what you can do?

We’ve got to continue the 2x formula concept, where you’re still giving every district some increase but you continue to bring up the bottom districts. I’m not one that says every student ought to have nine grand. We ought to look at the poverty numbers, the ELL and special ed. Districts that are very heavy in those maybe need a little more money, and other districts may need a little less. If we’re really going to be serious about making Michigan a top 10 state (in education), we have to address the issues of poverty.

The report says $8,667 is the optimal (per-student base) funding based on these 54 best-performing districts. Is that a number that you’re shooting for to try to bring all districts up to that level at least? Or is that unrealistic for Michigan?

I don’t think that’s unrealistic. I don’t know that that’s the right number. But I think there has to be a number, then we have to look at things like poverty, ELL, special-ed., and districts with heavy populations of those may need more.

So is that number a little high for what we can actually do In MI?

Right, but we (should) continue to address the equity while we address these other key issues.

Do you have a target number?

I think we ought to use the report’s number as a base and then have the conversations from there.

So what do you do next with this?

We’re certainly going to discuss it with the governor and key legislative leaders, have it hopefully discussed at the Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission, and continue to have the issue in the public eye so that legislators will address it. But we’re encouraging all the education groups to continue to have conversations with their folks, and have their folks have conversations with legislators.

To me it’s not about just putting more money in the system, though. I think we have to invest for change as well. Maybe we look at a balanced calendar, with adding time to the school year, done in a different way. My concept would be add some time to the calendar, but do it for the kids who are below our expectations. For the kids at or above expectations, have options for them that they could choose from if they want to, but they don’t have to. But make sure we’re adding time to the year for kids who are under-performing and under-achieving.

What do you hope the report does in terms of bringing attention to Michigan’s funding situation?

I hope it really shows we need to continue to invest in education. No matter how we look at it, if we want to be a top 10 state, we have to invest in education.


Michigan Education Finance Study

Adequacy Study Inadequate, But So is Funding

- Sponsorship -
Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.


Fourth-grade hockey fan gets a magical hour on ice: ‘I made the shot!’

Raised as a Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins hockey fan, Jackson Solow lights up while skating on an ice rink wearing his favorite hockey jersey...

‘This time it is continued learning’

One school’s switch from in-person to virtual education last week was nearly seamless, especially when compared with the forced school closure in March...

Foundation grants $28,285 in fall funding requests

Virtual phys ed and art experiences, materials to improve classroom focus and books on social issues aimed at middle-schoolers are among the grants approved this fall...

Latest school closings expand on state-ordered high school mandate

More Kent County districts continue to announce temporary school building closures, as schools contend with a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kent County and Michigan...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Latest school closings expand on state-ordered high school mandate

More Kent County districts continue to announce temporary school building closures, as schools contend with a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kent County and Michigan...

Many districts had shifted gears prior to statewide high school closure

Under new order, colleges and high schools must close for in-person learning through Dec. 8. Kindergarten through eighth-grade can continue in person...

Hour of Code to be held virtually this year

In partnership with Kent ISD, West Michigan Tech Talent is creating a virtual Hour of Code curriculum for third- through fifth-graders across West Michigan...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU