At a time of great inequality of opportunity deepened by the COVID-19 crisis, The Education Trust-Midwest and a broad cross-section of business, civil rights and civic leaders today launched a new campaign – Opportunity for All – to call on state leaders to invest in Michigan’s students and adopt a system of fairer education funding – including in immediate state budget decisions – as leaders grapple with projected shortfalls for the FY 2021 budget.
Today’s announcement also includes a new analysis, entitled The Time is Now: COVID-19 and Fair Funding. In the new brief, The Education Trust-Midwest proposes pragmatic and fair budget strategies that state leaders could immediately implement to prioritize Michigan’s vulnerable students – especially low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities – in the state’s immediate budget decisions. The strategies include more equitable approaches to budget reductions that serve as alternatives to Michigan’s standard approach to budget cuts, as well as greater transparency and accountability for the state investment.
State leaders joining The Education Trust-Midwest in the call to shield Michigan’s vulnerable students from the harshest state budget cuts included Mike Jandernoa, Founder and Chairman of 42 North Partners; Alice Thompson, CEO of Black Family Educational Services, Inc. and former Chief Executive Officer, Black Family Development, Inc. of Detroit; Jametta Lilly, Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Parent Network; and Adnoris “Bo” Torres, Executive Director of the Hispanic Center of West Michigan. The diverse table of leaders represents among Michigan’s most prominent civil rights, business and civic leaders – on both sides of the political aisle.
Michigan is already among the worst states in the country for fair funding of education, a key reason why state leaders must commit to invest in public education, transform the state’s inequitable funding formula and prioritize vulnerable students during budget decisions to address wide gaps in opportunity and achievement among Michigan’s schoolchildren.
“Michigan needs a skilled workforce to ensure a strong, prosperous economy, and that means we need to give every student equal access to opportunities for a successful future,” said Mike Jandernoa, who is also a respected philanthropic leader and a board member of Talent 2025 in West Michigan. “Our state’s leaders must commit to an equitable education funding system that helps close the gaps between Michigan’s wealthy and poor districts and supports our most vulnerable children.”
“We have to take a hard look at our longstanding systemic injustices and choose to invest in public education, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the opportunity divide among Michigan’s students,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the nonpartisan The Education Trust-Midwest. “The time to address these inequities is now. But if budget cuts are necessary, Michigan’s leaders should provide more support for high-need students that have been underserved for decades. We are calling on state leaders to create Opportunity for All.”
Added Alice Thompson, who has led civil rights conversations across the city of Detroit and Michigan for more than two decades: “Our nation and state are in the midst of a crisis, like nothing we have ever seen before. This crisis has more clearly sharpened our focus on the tremendous and conspicuous inequities that exist for children in our education system. The time is right, and the time is now to take this opportunity to correct and eradicate years of policies and practices that have been harmful to children with disabilities and low-income students in both rural and urban communities.”
ETM’s new analysis provides a roadmap for more equitable budget decisions, guided by three strategies, including:
Prioritizing investment in public education over other areas of the budget, including by reversing decisions to divert money from the School Aid Fund.
Protecting funding for vulnerable students, including by ensuring any state budget cuts, if necessary, are done fairly and equitably.
Ensuring transparency and accountability by making a real commitment to have dollars reach the children for whom they are intended.
Based on extensive budget modeling, ETM examined the impact of Michigan’s inequitable approach to budget reductions by reviewing funding data for every district statewide. The analysis presents legislators with four more equitable funding options to shield lower-funded districts and high-need students. The models contrast with Michigan’s standard approach to budget cuts, which imposes uniform across-the-board cuts, regardless of students’ or communities’ level of poverty or needs.
In its analysis, The Education Trust-Midwest also calls on state leaders to ensure transparency in how funding dollars are spent so that money earmarked for vulnerable students reaches the classrooms where those children attend. This includes requiring districts to spend 75% of at-risk funding and English learner funding at the school where qualifying students attend beginning in the 2022-23 school year (FY 2023 budget), establishing searchable databases and mandating timely public reporting on district financial decisions and investments.
“The reality in Michigan is that our policies, funding and mindset have consistently underfunded and underdeveloped the essential tools and beliefs that help our children and youth thrive,” said Jametta Lilly of Detroit Parent Network. “Facing hard choices and economic uncertainty, we are calling on legislators to embrace and protect historically vulnerable populations.”
“Pathways to success for communities that have been historically marginalized is the ability to have real opportunities for authentic relationships with teachers, counselors and academic staff,” said Bo Torres, adding that access to opportunity must stretch from our urban centers through our rural communities. “Without that, we are not providing a just environment for young persons that will mold our future.”