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.

Payday coming soon

Pension paybacks for Detroit district employees may show up in March  

Thousands of Detroit district school employees may reap the benefits of a lawsuit over pension funding as soon as March.

School employees who worked for Detroit’s main district between 2010 and 2011 can expect refund checks in their mailboxes soon, district leaders say, but making sure the money ends up in the right place will be difficult.

The reimbursements are the outcome of a controversial move during Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration to withhold additional money from employees’ paychecks to pay for retiree health care benefits.

The Michigan Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the state Court of Appeals that the withdrawals were unconstitutional. As a result, the state is giving back $550 million to school employees with interest. The amount employees get depends on what they were paid at the time, either 1.5 or 3 percent of their salary.

While every district in the state is charged with handling the refunds, the Detroit district has a larger burden, tasked with processing 13,416 refunds totaling $28.9 million.

Some of the employees no longer work for the district and do not have an updated address on file, the district said, so employees have been asked to update their information by Feb. 28.

Another challenge: The district is trying to fill five positions in the financial department, the area charged with issuing the checks.

Jeremy Vidito, the district’s chief financial officer, said the state did not allocate extra dollars for additional support staff to help with the task, so the department is working overtime to process the checks.

“It’s prioritizing,” he said. “So there are items that we are going to push back to make sure this happens. It’s also … asking people to do more with less.”

Despite the challenges, the district said it plans to begin mailing checks starting the third week of March.


Cap and gown

Graduation rates in Michigan – and Detroit’s main district — are up, but are most students ready for college?

The state superintendent had some good news to share Wednesday about last year’s four-year graduation rates: They are at their highest level in years.

What’s not clear is whether new graduates are being adequately prepared for college.

Slightly more than 80 percent of the state’s high school students graduated last year, an increase of about half a percentage point from the previous year. It was news state education leaders cheered.

“An 80 percent statewide graduation rate is a new watermark for our schools. They’ve worked hard to steadily improve,” state Superintendent Brian Whiston said in a statement.

“This is another important step in helping Michigan become a Top 10 education state in 10 years. We aren’t there yet, so we need to keep working and moving forward,” he said.

But statewide, the number of students ready for college based on their scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test was about 35 percent, underscoring the fact that graduation rate is not necessarily a great measure of school success. Schools looking to raise graduation rates can find ways to make it easier for students to earn credits toward graduation and, unlike some states, Michigan does not require students to pass graduation exams.

The result is that more students are graduating from high school — but might not be ready to do college work.

In Detroit, graduation rates in the city’s main district remained largely steady, with a little more than three-quarters of its students graduating after four years. But the number of students who were ready for college dropped almost a point to 12.3 percent last year. While most students take the SAT in 11th grade as part of the state’s school testing program, that’s an indication students graduating from high school may not have been adequately prepared for college.

The state dropout rate remained largely unchanged at almost nine percent.

Detroit’s main district had the highest four-year graduation rates compared to other large districts, but more district students dropped out of school than in the previous year. More than 10 percent of Detroit students dropped out of high school in the 2016-17 school year, a slight increase from last year, according to state data.

Nikolai Vitti, Detroit’s school chief, said the report should motivate the district to ensure students are graduating at higher numbers, and are college ready when they leave high school.

“We are focused on creating a college going culture in our high schools by expanding accelerating programs, such as IB, dual enrollment, AP, and Early College,” he said. “We have already expanded SAT preparation during the school day and intend to offer classes within the schedule for this focus with 10th graders next year.”

Focusing on strengthening basic skills among elementary and middle school students also will better prepare them for college after graduation, Vitti said.

“Most importantly, if we teach the Common Core standards with fidelity and a stronger aligned curriculum, which we will next year at the K-8 level for reading and math, our students will be exposed to college ready skills and knowledge,” he added. “We look forward to demonstrating the true and untapped talent of our students in the years to come.”

But in spite of steady dropout rates and relatively low college readiness numbers, state officials were upbeat about the graduation results.

“This is the first time the statewide four-year graduation rate has surpassed 80 percent since we started calculating rates by cohorts eleven years ago,” said Tom Howell, director of the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information, which tracks school data. “This increase is in line with how the statewide graduation rate has been trending gradually upward.”

Search below to see the four-year graduation rates and college readiness rates for all Michigan high schools.