3. Randy Liepa, superintendent of the Wayne County Regional Educational Service agency, discusses the findings of a new study aimed at examining the true cost of educating children  Jan. 17 at the John W. English Administrative Center in Southfield.

3. Randy Liepa, superintendent of the Wayne County Regional Educational Service agency, discusses the findings of a new study aimed at examining the true cost of educating children Jan. 17 at the John W. English Administrative Center in Southfield.

Photo by Kayla Dimick


Group releases results of school financing study

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published January 23, 2018

SOUTHFIELD — How much does it cost to send a child to school? 

Over the past year, the School Finance Research Collaborative — a group made up of local educational professionals and business leaders to re-examine the state’s approach to funding schools — has been researching the answer to that question. 

The collaborative has been overseeing a school adequacy study that examined how much funding schools need and where the funding should be allocated. 

On Jan. 17, the collaborative released the findings of the study at a press conference at the John W. English Administrative Center in Southfield. 

Wanda Cook-Robinson, Oakland Schools superintendent, was on hand to discuss the findings of the study. 

Members of the collaborative come from many different backgrounds, Cook-Robinson said, but they are united under one goal. 

“Our business leaders and education experts are from all corners of the state. That includes the Upper Peninsula, lower southeastern Michigan, the west side of the state and the Thumb (region) — and we all came together in November 2016,” Cook-Robinson said. “We come from a variety of backgrounds, but we all agree it’s time to change the way we fund Michigan schools. With that in mind, we proudly supported Michigan’s first comprehensive adequacy study that answers this question: What does it cost to educate a child attending school in the state of Michigan?”

The study was recently completed by two school finance firms: Augenblick, Palaich and Associates; and Picus, Odden and Associates, Cook-Robinson said, and both firms have over 100 years of experience between them. APA has conducted 30 similar studies across the country. 

“Our research went directly to those on the front line — teachers, principals, special education directors, a few superintendents and others — so that we could gain that information from those who serve our children on a daily basis,” she said. 

Nearly 300 educators lent their expertise to the collaborative, Cook-Robinson said, by serving on panels focusing on all grade levels, as well as preschool, special education, English language learners, poverty, and career and technical education. 

“This study is the first of its kind to have a panel on charter schools, and to examine districts of varying sizes and districts that may be geographically isolated,” Cook-Robinson said. 

The report includes the following key findings, officials said:

• The base per-pupil cost to educate a regular education K-12 student in Michigan is $9,590, which does not include transportation, food service or capital costs, and only includes pension costs at 4.6 percent of wages.

• Charter and traditional public schools should be funded equally.

• It costs $14,155 annually to educate a preschool student age 3 or 4.

• In addition to the base per-pupil cost, a percentage of the base cost should be provided for special education, English language learners, students living in poverty, and programs to provide career and technical education.

• Transportation costs should be funded at $973 per rider until further study can be carried out.

• Because Michigan’s school district sizes vary widely and small districts lack economies of scale, district size must be taken into account, with funding increases provided for all districts under 7,500 students.

Randy Liepa, superintendent of the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency, said local policymakers should use the study to reform Michigan’s school system. 

“It’s not about just taking dollars and cents and figuring out how much people are spending — it’s really saying what should school look like and how much does that cost?” Liepa said. “That’s exactly what they did with this particular study.”

The full report can be found at fundMIschools.org. 

“(The study gives) policymakers clear direction on how much it costs to educate a child and how best to reform Michigan’s broken school funding system,” Bob Moore, school finance research project director, said in a written statement. 

Cook-Robinson said $100,000 for the study was provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the Oakland Schools Education Foundation. Around $750,000 was raised by a combination of state, federal and local sources. 

Officials said additional research will be needed in several areas, such as a full-capacity study to examine district costs; a review of literate and illiterate poverty and the concentration of poverty by district; and a full transportation cost study.