Want Education Funding Study
by Christine MacDonald, The Detroit News, June 9, 2004
For more articles like this
Experts say push
to determine funding adequacy spurred by tight budgets, No Child
Left Behind Act
School superintendents, who say they’ve been crippled by
continued state funding cuts, are pushing Michigan to pin down
just how much money it takes to educate its children.
It’s called an adequacy study, and it is likely to accelerate
the debate over whether Michigan’s school funding system is
The review also could become a key piece of evidence if a school
district moves to challenge the state in court. Some experts say
the study is likely to find that schools are underfunded,
particularly urban schools such as Detroit.
If that’s the case, it could kick off the type of funding fights
the country is seeing play out in more than two dozen states and
has resulted in a major overhaul in the way several fund
“Education is just another line item in the budget and subject
to the whims of the Legislature,” said Anthony Adams, Detroit
Public Schools general counsel, who has been researching a
possible lawsuit against the state Board of Education to force
it to do the study. “We need the state to step up to the plate
and determine what adequate funding is.”
Detroit and superintendents across the state argue their state
funding is too low at a time of heavy pressure to meet new
national testing standards. Many school officials fault Proposal
A — the 1994 ballot proposal that shifted school financing from
the local property tax to the sales tax — because it is
vulnerable to downturns in the economy.
In May, the Michigan Association of School Administrators and
the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education — which together
represent 560 districts — passed a resolution encouraging the
state to start the review, which could cost up to $1 million.
The Detroit school district has pushed for it for months, as it
grapples with a $78 million shortfall this year and plans to lay
off more than 3,200.
But others argue tough budget times have meant cuts for everyone
and that schools should concentrate on making sure they are
spending their money efficiently. Michigan ranked 14th
nationwide in per-pupil spending — at $8,489 — for the 2001-02
school year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“You can always make the argument for spending more money,” said
Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland. “If the state had more money, the
schools would get it.”
While Michigan is just starting the debate over whether to start
an adequacy study, 31 other states have gone through their own,
said Steve Smith, senior policy specialist with the National
Conference of State Legislatures.
It’s a trend nationwide in school financing lawsuits, which have
moved away from arguing that all school districts should be
equally funded to challenging that states aren’t funding schools
adequately as guaranteed in their constitutions. Twenty-five
states are in court over school funding fights and involve these
adequacy arguments, Smith said.
Experts say tight budgets and tough new standards for schools
under the federal No Child Left Behind Act are fueling the
Michigan’s school funding base has been stagnant — at about
$6,700 per student. Districts saw a $74 cut to that funding in
But some school officials are hesitant about the study because
it has the potential to divide districts. It likely would break
down the costs to educate different kids — including urban and
suburban youth. Detroit argues it needs more money because it
has more poor and disabled children, and costs to recruit
teachers and maintain older buildings are higher. Detroit does
get extra federal and state money for its at-risk kids, but it
says the funding isn’t enough.
“I worry that it might start pitting one district against the
other,” said New Haven Superintendent James Avery.
The stagnant state funding and increasing health care and
retirement costs have resulted in teacher layoffs across Metro
Raaed Albaiaty of Detroit worries the district will lay off too
many bilingual teachers. A bilingual first-grade teacher helped
his Arabic-speaking daughter, Noor, strengthen her English
tremendously this year, he said.
“See how many kids they are going to fail in school because they
have no knowledge,” Albaiaty said. “This is the future of
State Superintendent Tom Watkins said he’d support an adequacy
study as long as it’s independently done.
Plymouth-Canton Superintendent Jim Ryan said he welcomes it as
well, calling it a fresh approach.
“It’s another important piece of trying to figure out the
funding problems we have now,” Ryan said.
Smith said similar studies in other states typically find that
20 percent to 40 percent more state funding is needed.
But he said of the 31 states that have had such studies, only
four actually intend or have bumped up funding by the
Detroit Public Schools legal staff have been researching a
possible lawsuit for the last six months, but CEO Kenneth
Burnley said last week he is not contemplating filing one.
Whether it’s through the courts or politically, the study has
the potential to change the funding system, experts say.
“It’s highly probable this could go somewhere, and it would be
significant for Michigan education,” said Phil Kearney, a
retired University of Michigan professor and a school finance
But an adequacy lawsuit claiming that Michigan isn’t fulfilling
its funding obligation likely wouldn’t go too far because the
education clause in the state constitution is weaker than in
other states, where lawsuits have been successful, said David
Plank, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan
But he said the study’s results could be compelling evidence if
it finds large disparities between districts’ needs and their
resources. “The pressure will simply build, and the likely
outcome is a court case at some point,” Plank said.
School adequacy review
School superintendents across the state are encouraging Michigan
to start a review of how much money it takes to educate
children. Detroit and other urban districts argue they need more
money, because they have more poor and disabled children and
their costs to recruit teachers and maintain older buildings are
higher. The review could cost up to $1 million. Should the state
government undertake this study? To cast your vote, visit
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