Multiple districts — The state’s education budget approved last month invests more into public schools than ever before, and local superintendents are analyzing ways to use increased resources on staffing, programming and growing their pool of future teachers.
The budget, signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on July 14, boosts per pupil funding to $9,150 for 2022-2023 in all schools from last year’s $8,700. It also earmarks money in the areas of mental health and school safety, provides additional money for special education and at-risk students, increases free preschool offerings, invests in school infrastructure and covers tuition for new teachers.
Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Koehler has long advocated for more equitable school funding through the School Finance Research Collaborative, which in 2018 – as concluded by the School Finance Research Collaborative study – found districts were receiving more than $2,000 less per student than what’s required to meet state proficiency standards. The gap was even higher for districts with high populations of special education and low-income students and English-language learners.
The state’s investment adds funding in all those categories and more, bringing truly equitable funding closer to reality and helping each child reach their full potential, he said.
“We are closer than we’ve ever been,” Koehler said, explaining that fully funding at-risk students and increasing special education funding “are generational expenditures that will set the floor for future investment.
“Really, there’s almost nothing to criticize and everything to congratulate the legislature and the governor on a bipartisan agreement that really and truly is an investment in education we have not seen since the passage of Proposal A.”
‘The increased investment – really, the second consecutive year of record investment in public education in Michigan – has helped to make up for two decades of growth that was last in the nation.’— Kentwood Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Polston
What Districts are Planning
Kentwood Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Polston said increased investment – this year and last year – has largely been used to add staff, including counselors and elementary teachers. Positions are also geared toward student support and to implement restorative practices.
“The increased investment – really, the second consecutive year of record investment in public education in Michigan – has helped to make up for two decades of growth that was last in the nation,” Polston said. “I appreciate the increased focus on supporting public education and trying to get us back on track.”
The district has also increased pay. Staff members received an off-schedule bonus of 1% of their salaries over the holiday break last school year, and another 1% retention bonus is planned for any employee who worked in the district during the 2021-22 school year. Also, the district’s new support staff master agreement included a 4% raise and set a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
“We know we are in the people business, and our staff are conduits for our students and our families,” Polston said. “We want to make sure that they’re compensated not just at a fair level, but at a level that is representative of the value they add to our school, community and to our country.”
‘Like a duck, we look pretty calm on top but below the water our feet are moving as fast as we can, because we know we are going to have to figure out how to maintain programs that show themselves to be really effective.’— Northview Public Schools Superintendent Scott Korpak
Staff, Program to Connect with Students
Adding staff is also a priority for Northview Public Schools, where plans are to add two instructional coach positions to support teachers, one literacy interventionist at Highlands Middle for grades 5 and 6, and four math interventionists – one in each elementary building and at Highlands. Those positions were filled internally, Superintendent Scott Korpak said.
Increased funding also has allowed for the creation of a program the district calls “Belonging and After School Engagement,” which is run through Northview’s community education department. It kicked off in the spring for grades 7-12 and is poised to expand to include grades DK-6.
Northview also hopes to introduce therapy dogs in all its buildings to provide support for mainstream and special needs students through comfort and distraction when they experience anxiety, stress or depression, and as a reward for students working through behavioral or academic issues.
After decades as an administrator who is by now all-too familiar with the rollercoaster of education funding, Korpak said Northview plans for the expenditures through the end of the 2023-24 school year.
“Like a duck, we look pretty calm on top, but below the water our feet are moving as fast as we can because we know we are going to have to figure out how to maintain programs that show themselves to be really effective,” he said. “Part of that means having really good data, which we are already collecting.
“For right now, we have the money and the money is there to help students, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
More Preschool Slots
Equity in education starts with the youngest learners, and another key area of investment is into free preschool. The state approved in its budget 1,300 more free preschool slots for the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), a state-funded preschool program for 4-year-olds who may be at risk of educational failure. Currently the Michigan GSRP is working to determine how the additional preschool slots will be allocated. GSRP Supervisor Julie Guenther said she expects Kent ISD to offer additional slots beyond its estimated 195 classrooms for the 2022-2023 school year.
As the pandemic eases, it’s a good time for more slots to open up, Guenther said.
“We are seeing residents more responsive to putting their students in class this year,” she said. “Last year we had slow enrollment due to COVID and concerns parents had about placing their young children into a classroom where they have to wear masks all day.
“We are seeing really good enrollment so far and I believe we will fill all the classrooms we currently have, plus some.”
‘I believe we need to reclaim the narrative for our rising educators that this is a rewarding and exciting profession. Educators have the opportunity to positively impact lives on a daily basis and given the current political climate, I worry potential future educators aren’t hearing this message often enough.’— Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Superintendent Michael Burde
Safety, Mental Health and Security
Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Superintendent Michael Burde said safety and mental health are priorities.
“This year’s budget will allow us to invest resources in additional school social work support as well as additional security personnel,” he said.
A focus on the teacher pipeline is timely and needed, Burde said.
The nation faces an ongoing teacher shortage and fewer college students going into education. Local schools are struggling to fill positions despite increased funding.
“I’m excited to see the additional resources for ‘grow your own’ programs as well as programs to offset tuition costs,” Burde said. “Beyond these investments, I believe we need to reclaim the narrative for our rising educators that this is a rewarding and exciting profession. Educators have the opportunity to positively impact lives on a daily basis, and given the current political climate I worry potential future educators aren’t hearing this message often enough.”
Reporters Joanne Bailey-Boorsma, Morgan Jarema and Alexis Stark contributed to this story.