The Michigan House of Representatives approved a budget that would provide equal per-student funding for K-12 school for the first time.
Right now, some school districts get thousands of dollars more per student than others. The House budget would allocate $8,700 per student to all schools.
“This in and of itself isn’t going to solve [unequal education funding] when we’ve been chronically underfunding education for two decades, one year isn’t going to fix that,” said Doug Pratt, a spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association, the union the represents approximately 120,000 teachers, education support personnel and higher ed employees around the state. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”
The gap in education funding is the result of a deal struck back in 1994 after lawmakers voted to eliminate property taxes as the main source of money for K-12 schools.
Then-Gov. John Engler proposed a new funding approach called Proposal A. The sales tax would go up, schools would get most of their money from state taxes and the funding between districts would be more equal.
But wealthier school districts still got more money from the state.
“The problem is that the taxes that fed Proposal A...the ink was barely dry and they started cutting them,” Pratt said. “So it undercut the tax base that schools were paid from. That created a situation where over the last two decades, Michigan's dead last in the country for education funding growth.”
And, while it was more equal, inequalities persisted. For instance, in mid-Michigan, DeWitt Public Schools receives $8,111 per student, while Oneida Township School District in Eaton County gets over $11,000 per student. Okemos Community Schools are in the middle of the pack with $8,529 per student.
“So there’s still some inequity there, Pratt said, "but at least the basic fundamental principle, the state providing the same amount of money for every student no matter where they live is a place that the house and the governor’s office have come to an agreement on."
Williamston Community Schools Superintendent Adam Spina said he's always wondered why such a large issue hasn’t been addressed earlier. His district receives $8,111 per student.
“I think that after almost three decades that this is finally getting rectified, potentially, that’s a huge step towards equality of opportunity for students no matter what educational institution they attend,” Spina said.
The budget approved by the House is still a few steps away from becoming law. It would need to be adopted by the Senate and then signed by the governor.
Given the uncertainty around its passage, Spina said, it’s hard to predict just what the additional money would be used for.
“We’ll eagerly jump into figuring out what ways to put those funds towards programs, teachers, anything that we can do to enhance the educational opportunities that we’re providing to our students here in Williamston,” he said. “So fingers crossed at this point.
FOX 47 reached out to all the members of the Senate’s Education and Career Readiness Committee to discuss the adoption of the funding but none could be reached for comment.