As the Legislature starts to work through the process of crafting next year’s state budget, I think it’s important to go back to the basics and discuss how schools are funded in Michigan.
Prior to 1994, Michigan’s public schools received the majority of their funding from local property taxes. Funding for each school district could vary widely based on how large a millage local voters were willing to support. But that has not been the case since 1994, when Proposal A was adopted by voters.
Since Proposal A was enacted, Michigan school districts receive most of their general operating funding from the state’s School Aid Fund through a per-pupil funding method known as the foundation allowance. To facilitate the shift from local funding to state funding, Proposal A increased the state sales tax from 4% to 6% and earmarked the entire 2% increase for the School Aid Fund. It also established a 6-mill state education tax on all properties.
The initial foundation allowances for schools across the state varied widely in 1994-95, but the state set a minimum per-pupil amount below which no district would fall and a maximum amount above which the state would not contribute. In the years since, state leaders worked hard to equalize these amounts. That goal was reached as of the 2021-22 school year, when almost all school districts in the state received an equal per-pupil allowance.
For our current state budget, each district received $9,150 per student, which amounts to $10.1 billion in statewide funding for foundation allowances. The total statewide k-12 school budget increased to $19.6 billion when you include the additional funding allocated for teacher retirement pension debt, special education, career and technical education, after school programs, mental health and school safety initiatives, and other programs.
This year, the governor has proposed an increase in per-pupil for most – but not all – schools in Michigan. Her executive budget recommendation includes a per-pupil funding allowance of $9,608 for the majority of schools. However, she has proposed a 20% reduction in per-pupil funding for students in public cyber schools, which would set their foundation allowance at $7,687.
Statewide, about 21,200 students are enrolled in the online public charter schools that would be hurt by these cuts. The students who attend cyber schools are often some of the most vulnerable members of our society, including students with special needs such as compromised immune systems, mental health conditions, and other factors that prevent them from being educated in person. Other students transition to cyber schooling after experiencing bullying in traditional schools.
Cyber schools incur costs just like brick-and-mortar schools. They need proper funding to cover everyday costs, such as supplying and maintaining computers, webcams and headsets, obtaining online security measures to keep kids safe, reserving testing facilities, providing professional development for staff, procuring digital curriculum, and more.
Thankfully, the governor isn’t the only one making the decisions when it comes to the state budget process. The House and the Senate each work on our own budgets and negotiate with the governor before arriving at the final product.
As the state budget process progresses, I will be a strong voice advocating for equal funding for ALL Michigan students, whether they attend a traditional school or a public cyber school.
It is my job to make sure your money is put to good use, and I would love to hear your input. Please don’t hesitate to call my office at (517) 373-1775 or email JaimeGreene@house.mi.gov.
If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts on education funding with the chair of the budget subcommittee on school aid and education, you can contact Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park) by calling (517) 373-0823 or emailing ReginaWeiss@house.mi.gov.
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