UCS opines on statewide school funding study

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 23, 2018

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Utica Community Schools officials are commenting on a recently released statewide school funding study that the UCS Board of Education supported earlier this month.

The statewide school finance study’s details were announced in a 358-page report Jan. 17. The study was done by a bipartisan expert panel called the School Finance Research Collaborative, which was established in 2016.

Panelists came from educational or business backgrounds. One panelist, Oakland Schools Superintendent Wanda Cook-Robinson, said in a statement that it’s time to act in order to fix how the state funds schools.

“The diverse group of leaders who make up the School Finance Research Collaborative all agree it’s time to change the way Michigan’s schools are funded, and we’re proud to release Michigan’s first comprehensive school adequacy study that demonstrates the costs of educating a child,” she said.

The study tabulates a base level for educating a K-12 student at $9,590, which is more than the $7,796 per pupil that UCS currently gets from the state. The study authors added that the recommended figure doesn’t take into account things such as capital costs, food service or transportation. They also said it really costs $14,155 per pupil to effectively teach a preschooler who is 3 or 4 years old.

The report states that schools should be allotted $973 per transportation rider, and the authors urge funding for teaching students who are poor, who are learning English as a second language and who are in special education programs. Career and technical education should also get more funding, the authors said.

The study authors concluded that traditional public schools should get the same funding as charter schools. However, they also believe that school districts with fewer than 7,500 students should get even more funding to offset disadvantages from economies of scale.

The collaborative added that details on school costs, transportation costs and poverty need to be further explored and analyzed.

During a Jan. 8 UCS Board of Education meeting, UCS school board members unanimously passed a resolution supporting the statewide study.

According to UCS officials, the study delved into issues such as at-risk students, special education, preschool, poverty, English language aptitude, geographic isolation, technical education and more. It also examined charter schools.

UCS Superintendent Christine Johns said this data-driven study will help inform people and start intelligent dialogue on the issues, specifically as they relate to students and their education.

“First and foremost, I think that this study is long overdue, because the current school funding finance system in the state of Michigan is outdated; it’s broken, and this is the first comprehensive study ever conducted in the state,” she said.

Johns said students must meet very high performance standards, and the resources have to be available to do that. She said the current base foundation allowance needs to change, and it needs to be recognized that it costs more to help students with disabilities or who are in poverty.

“It highlights what needs to be reviewed and addressed as a new formula,” Johns said. “So, there is more discussion and detailed work to be done.”

Through Michigan’s current school funding system, property taxes are transferred to the state and pooled into a state school aid fund. The state apportions money from that fund to districts based on funding formulas.

In recent years, the school board has protested about inadequate school funding and has blamed funding formulas, such as a “2x formula,” which awards steeper funding increases to school districts that previously have had less funding per pupil.

Find out more about the School Finance Research Collaborative, including its study, by visiting www.fundmischools.org. Learn more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-1000.