Bigger budgets

Four things to know about the education proposals in Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s 2019 budget

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

In his eighth and final state budget address Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder detailed his proposal to give the schools their largest funding increase in 15 years. The Republican governor  also proposed extra cash for special education and career and technical training. The proposals — part of Snyder’s $56.8 billion draft budget — now go to the legislature. Lawmakers hope to strike a final deal with Snyder by June so the 2019 budget can take effect when the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

Among the governor’s education proposals:

More money for all state schools

In a state where some districts have historically gotten much more money per student than others, lower-funded districts would get a bigger bump from the governor’s proposal. If Snyder’s proposal is approved by the legislature, districts now getting the minimum per pupil funding amount ($7,631) will get an extra $240 per student — a 3.1 percent increase. That would affect about 75 percent of traditional schools,  including Detroit’s main district, as well as all of the state’s charter schools. Districts that get more money per student — those that had higher funding levels when the state first enacted its current funding system in the 1990s, and get as much as $8,409 per student— would see an extra $120 per student.

The bump in per-student funding would be the largest since the 2001-02 fiscal year, when funding was increased by $500 per pupil. The 2006-07 budget was the only time since then that the minimum amount was increased by more than $200. “This is a significant increase and would close the equity gap between the high and low from the time we started (in office) by over 50 percent, which is very significant because we have many districts that are at the minimum,” Snyder said in the address.

Dan Quisenberry, who heads the state’s charter school association, applauded the governor’s proposal to give charter schools and districts at the low end of the funding scale an increase in funds that’s twice the size of the increase going to districts at the top of the scale. “We continue to support the recommendation that addresses the unfair funding gap that exists in our state,” Quisenberry said. “Every public school student in Michigan deserves the same opportunity at a quality education, and that can only happen if we value all students equally.”


The money will be distributed using the same formula the state has used for decades

Though a prominent group of education and business leaders recently issued a major report calling on the state to dramatically change the way it funds schools, Snyder’s proposal sticks with the state’s traditional funding formula. The report, a product of nearly two years and $900,000 in research, called for schools to get more money for needier students. It proposed a formula that would send schools 35 percent more for students living in poverty, between 50 and 70 percent more for students who are learning English, and up to 115 percent more for students with disabilities. Snyder’s budget has no extra money for any groups and, like past budgets, would send schools the same amount of money per student regardless of need.

Robert Moore, the deputy superintendent of Oakland Schools, who is one of the leaders of the group behind the study, the School Finance Research Collaborative, said that’s a mistake.

“It’s always good news there’s a funding increase,” Moore said, “but the problem is it’s not addressing the inequities. The funding is not based on any reasonable basis. It’s just an incremental change in a positive direction on a broken, outdated system. While we are welcoming the additional funding, it is in no way being done in a manner consistent in what we know about how much services cost for students in districts and charter schools across the state. It’s a long way to go.”


Funding for special education would also go up — at least for the state’s youngest children

The Republican governor proposed increasing state spending in Michigan’s Early On program, which offers intervention services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities, and their families. The budget would add an extra $5 million to a program that now gets $1.4 billion.

Snyder did not propose an increase for the K-12 special education program despite an alarming study released by the state last year that found Michigan schools spend almost $700 million more every year on special education than they get from the state. The shortfall means schools have to take money from their regular programs to pay for mandated services and therapies to help children with special needs. A number of studies in recent months have called on the state to increase special education funding for K-12 education, including the School Finance Research Collaborative and the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.


School districts could get up to $50 per student to expand career and technical training programs.

The proposed increase is believed to be the first per-pupil funding boost for career and technical education programs. That’s according to the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance,  a coalition of educators, employers, and unions in partnership with the state education department and economic development agency.  The organization reports 109,000 students are enrolled in career tech programs in the state.

The funding for career training comes as Snyder has vowed to better prepare the state’s students for jobs in high tech fields following Amazon’s decision to cut Michigan cities from consideration for its new second headquarters. In passing on Detroit, the retail giant cited the region’s lack of highly educated workers who could do the high-tech work that Amazon needs.

Snyder said he’s planning to announce a “Marshall Plan for Talent” in coming weeks. The bump in the budget for career tech programs could be a part of that effort.

“We are incredibly excited that the executive budget recommendations presented today by Gov. Rick Snyder includes an investment in expanding Career and Technical Education for students in Michigan,” said Roger Curtis, director of the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development. “This investment will greatly help schools offering and successfully operating tech programs and further demonstrates Michigan’s commitment to being the national leader in developing talent and providing multiple pathways for students to high-demand, high-wage jobs.”

More details about the governor’s proposed budget can be found here.

In memorium

Michigan school Superintendent Brian Whiston, who helped keep threatened schools open, dies at 56

PHOTO: Youtube

The state education department is reporting this morning that state Superintendent Brian Whiston has died of cancer at 56 years old.

Whiston, who led the state education department for three years, is best known as the architect of the partnership agreements that last year prevented the closure of 38 struggling Michigan schools.

Those schools — including 25 in the city of Detroit — had been targeted for closure by a state law requiring the shuttering of any school that had been in the bottom five percent of state rankings for three years in a row. Parents were notified by a state agency called the School Reform Office that their children’s schools were in danger of closing. 

Whiston at the time had no control over the School Reform Office, which reported to Gov. Rick Snyder, but it was Whiston who gave Snyder an alternative to closing schools.

Instead of forcing thousands of children across the state to scramble for new schools that likely would not have been much different from the schools they were leaving, Whiston proposed that the schools enter into “partnership agreements” designed to keep them open.

With Snyder’s blessing, the schools signed agreements that required them to work with partners such as local universities and community groups to improve instruction. If the schools are unable to meet improvement targets over three years, they could be subject to consequences like closure.

Snyder then returned the School Reform Office to the control of the state Education Department.

Since then, dozens of other schools have also signed partnership agreements, and Whiston has been an advocate for school improvement, rather than punishing schools for poor performance.

Among people who have sent condolences since news of Whiston’s death emerged this morning is U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Snyder also issued a statement saying:

“It is with a heavy heart that I learned the news of the passing of State Superintendent Brian Whiston. Brian’s dedication and work on behalf of all Michigan students and teachers was exemplary. He was an outstanding partner who understood that, just as teachers work every day to challenge their students to do better, we all need to challenge ourselves to do better for students. The partnerships to help struggling districts, his work to help implement the Marshall Plan for Talent, his Top 10 in 10 program, and many other initiatives he undertook during his career will be part of Brian’s longstanding efforts to make Michigan a national leader in education. I will miss working with him greatly.”

For more about Whiston, who previously served as superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools, here’s the press release the Education Department issued this morning:

State of struggle

On nation’s report card, Michigan students remain in back of class

PHOTO: Getty images

Michigan schools continue to flounder in the bottom third of the nation.

Scores released Tuesday by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the “nation’s report card,” indicate Michigan schools have made little progress in recent years despite years of sounding alarms by state, business and education leaders.

According to NAEP results — from tests given to a sample of students in every state in 2017 — Michigan ranks 35th in fourth-grade reading skills. That’s up from 41st in 2015, but still notably lower than the 28th the state was ranked in 2003, the first year Michigan participated in the test.

Michigan also saw a small improvement in state rankings in fourth-grade math (38th, from 42nd), eighth-grade math (33rd, from 34th) and eighth-grade reading (30th, from 31st).

But beneath those rankings, there is little to celebrate. Consider:

  • Michigan’s rank in fourth-grade reading went up six spots. But that’s mainly because other states’ scores dropped. The average score Michigan students earned on that test was higher as recently as 2011.
  • In fourth-grade math, Michigan students score average was the lowest in the state’s history of taking the test, back to 2003.
  • Eighth-grade math scores have remained virtually unchanged for 14 years.
  • Low-income fourth-graders rank 49th in math, compared to poor students in other states; white students are 46th in fourth-grade reading compared to white students elsewhere.
  • We rank last in the Midwest in every category.

While the test indicates that Michigan may have arrested its more than decade-long educational slide, it also enumerates just how far the state is from becoming a top 10 state in education, the goal set by the Michigan Department of Education to be reached by 2026.

Why NAEP scores matter

State-level tests, such as Michigan’s M-STEP, offer comparisons of schools within state borders, but say nothing about how Michigan students fare against their peers in other states.

That’s where the NAEP comes in. The biennial NAEP test results gives education leaders, politicians and families of school children state-to-state comparisons of education systems. Without NAEP, Michigan would have difficulty determining if its schools are doing great or horribly.

The test is administered to about 300,000 students in public and private schools nationally, along with 27 urban districts including Detroit.

“The Nation’s Report Card provides us with the very best data we have to understand how our students stack up against those in other states,” said Michelle Richard, an education researcher and vice president of Public Sector Consultants, a Lansing-based public policy firm.

Those results have not been kind to Michigan. “Over the past decade, Michigan’s NAEP results have been stunning,” Richard said.  “Nearly everyone else is doing better than we are. Why? What are they doing that we’re not?”

Here’s how Michigan reading scores compare to the national average.

Focus on leading states

“Any improvement is a good thing,” said Elizabeth Moje, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, who examined the NAEP results for Bridge. “The fact we’re doing better than we were is good.

But Moje urged policymakers to be cautious about celebrating a slight improvement in state rankings, and instead look at what can be learned from leading states.

Massachusetts leads the nation in reading and math in both fourth and eighth grades. Massachusetts fourth-graders scored about 1.5 grade levels higher in reading than the average fourth-grader in Michigan (a 10-point NAEP scoring gap is roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of learning).

RELATED: You can see sample math questions here and reading questions here.

Massachusetts education leaders “do some pretty amazing things,” Moje said. “They’re investing in education. It’s a systems approach, not individual districts” figuring out what to do.

“Instead of using (NAEP) scores to say, ‘Hey, we’re doing better (than we were), we should be saying, ‘Who do we want to be like, and what are they doing to get there, because they’re not that different from us,’” Moje said.

Sarah Lenhoff, an education researcher and assistant professor at Wayne State University, said Michigan’s scores are basically flat. “You don’t want to improve your rank because a few other states are doing worse,” Lenhoff said. “That’s not improvement.

“The rank is a useful guidepost,” Lenhoff said, “but when we’re actually talking about the kind of learning we want our students to experience, the kinds of skills we want them to have when they move on to college and the workforce, the rank is less useful than looking at the average scores and thinking about how little progress we’ve made in changing the trajectory of student success.”

Lenhoff said she is particularly distressed by achievement gaps between white and African-American students. In fourth-grade math, Michigan’s  African-American students are the equivalent of three grade levels behind whites. Poverty doesn’t account for all of that gap – the divide between poor and non-poor fourth-graders is about half as wide as the divide between African-Americans and whites.

“That’s completely unacceptable that we have a group of students not learning,” Lenhoff said.

Test scores are stubbornly aligned with family income. The gap between test scores earned by those qualifiying for free or reduced lunch and those who do not has remained steady, both in Michigan and most states.

At least a dozen reports have been published in recent years focusing on how to improve Michigan schools.

“The fact we haven’t improved is concerning,” Lenhoff said of the latest NAEP scores. “We need a major reform in investment to make us happy and proud in 10 years.”

The Michigan Department of Education released a statement on the NAEP results, noting that while Michigan’s scores “have ticked-up slightly and we’ve gone up in the state rankings, we know there is a lot more work to do.

“These tests were given in 2017 when we were one year into our efforts to make Michigan a Top 10 education state in 10 years. Michigan is not yet where it needs to be. There is a Top 10 in 10 plan, we need to stick with it, and give our students and educators the opportunity to keep improving.”

Chalkbeat and Bridge Magazine, members of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, teamed up to cover the nation’s report card on schools. This story on Michigan scores came courtesy of Bridge. Click here to see Chalkbeat’s report on Detroit scores.