SFRC study could change school funding

March 1, 2018

By Pat Maurer

The Michigan Association of School Administrators released results from a State-wide study last month by the School Finance Research Collaborative examining school funding in Michigan that could change.

Clare Superintendent Jim Walter said, “The study has some very interesting findings that should foster change in our state.  They include increasing the foundation allowance significantly and addressing differences among our student populations, as well as varying district needs.  Transportation needs, for example, vary widely across our state and yet we generally receive the same foundation allowance no matter the geographic area we cover.”

He added, “The study also advocates formula adjustments for special education students, students from poverty, additional amounts for districts dealing with capital needs and more.  Bottom line — Proposal A once served us well, but the study reveals that it’s time for us to take a hard look at what it will really take to educate students equitably in the 21st century in Michigan.”

Harrison Superintendent Rick Foote said, the study which has been done truly revealed just how underfunded schools are. I’m hopeful that current and future legislators use the findings in the study to make serious decisions on how we fund our schools going forward.”

“Nearly 300 educators across the state gave policymakers information on how much it costs to educate a child and how to reform Michigan’s broken school funding system, School Finance Research Project Director Bob Moore said in a release.

“Regardless of whether a child attends a traditional public or charter school, they deserve the best possible education, and that starts with establishing a school funding program that data-driven and works for all students,” Mary Kay Shields, president of CS partners, said.

Two panelists from the Clare-Gladwin RESD district were Former Farwell Superintendent Tom House and Gladwin’s April Medema, both on the Evidence-Based Professional Judgement Panel.

The study included 250 educators from school districts, public school academies (charter schools) and intermediate school districts to examine the resources that are needed for students to meet state standards.

The Collaborative school adequacy study, conducted by Augeblick, Palaich and Associates, was funded with $843,000 from major foundations and 18 county school districts. It included interviews with hundreds of educators and helped determine how much money schools need to effectively do their job.

Results of the study said the per pupil base cost to educate a regular education K-12 student in Michigan is $9,590 not including transportation, food service or capital costs. It also only includes pension cost at 4.6 percent of wages. It also reported that it costs $14,155 to educate a preschool student age three or four.

The research shows that the per-student base cost rises from the low of $9,590 at the largest district to $11,482 in the smallest district.

Funding for programs and classifications of students was recommended for the model at $10,136 per pupil with additional funds for poverty, ELL and SPED students.

Additional costs for special education students was based on a total school “census” and estimated at $673 per student for all students.

Fifty eight Michigan School Districts met at least one of the three Successful School Performance Standard: Above Average, High Absolute Performance, Special Populations and Notably Successful (as well as the state’s baseline standard and were classified as the “Notably Successful” standard group. Clare and Gladwin were included in this list.

Of the 58 Notably Successful, 47 met only one of the three additional standards, ten districts met two standards and only one district met all three additional standards.
The study found that school district sizes need to be taken into account with funding increases for all districts under 7,500 students; that transportation costs should be separate from educational costs, and funded at $973 for each rider with further study made; that in addition to the base cost per student, a percentage of the base cost should be added for special education, English Language Learner, students living in poverty and programs to provide Career and Technical Education.

The study recommended that a CTE center should be staffed to have similar resources as a traditional school and operated by the district.

A summary of the evidence-based study staffing recommendations included:

*A full-day preschool for children aged 3 and four with one teacher and one aide in classes of 15.

*a Full day kindergarten program where each kindergarten student counts as one pupil in the funding program.

*An average class size of 15 for kindergarten through 3rd grade (The average class size is 17.3).

*An average class size of 25 for fourth grade through 12th grade classes.

*That 20 percent of core elementary and middle school teachers be Elective/Specialist teachers, and that 33 1/3 percent of high school teachers be Elective/Specialist.

*That there should be one instructional coach position for every 200 students.

* One core tutor in each prototypical school with additional tutors enabled through poverty, special education and ELL (English Language).

*Substitute teachers should make up five percent of core and elective teachers, instructional coaches, tutors, and additional tutoring, extended day, summer school, ELL and special education.

*one guidance counselor for every 450 K-5th grade students, one for every 250 in grades 6-12, one nurse for every 750 k-12 students which supports a half time nurse in each elementary and idle school and a full-time nurse in high school plus additional student support resources.

*Two supervisory and instructional aides for each 450-student elementary and middle school and three for each 600-student high school.

*One library media specialist position for each prototypical school.

*One principal for each 450-student elementary and middle school and one principal and one assistant principal for a 600-student prototypical high school. Two secretaries each was recommended for 450-student elementary and middle schools and for 600-student high schools.

An article in USA Today said “Few state school systems report worse achievement metrics than Michigan. Today, only 28.6 percent of fourth graders in the state are proficient in reading, well below the 34.8 percent nation wide.” The high school graduation is 11th lowest at 79.7 percent below the U.S. average of 84.1 percent. Public school funding per student average is $12,765, the 21st highest in the nation.

Farwell Superintendent David O’Bryant said, “The study is a starting point for a very large discussion that needs to occur at the State level. As Superintendents, we need to educate ourselves and start communications with our board, our staff and our community. The best part of the study is that it gives us a number to shoot for.”

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