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From the Daily: Equal funding, unequal opportunity

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published January 29, 2013

In the face of economic downturn, Michigan has struggled to adequately fund its education system. Last week, however, Michigan Sen. Rick Jones (R–Grand Ledge) introduced proposals that would make public education funding equal across the state. While his bills bring focus to an important policy conversation, these proposals won't solve the larger problem of embarrassingly low-funded public education in Michigan. More comprehensive education reform must be enacted across local, state and federal levels.

Jones’s bills would phase in equal per-pupil funding within the next 10 years. The first of his proposals aims to amend the state constitution to ensure that by the 2020-2021 state fiscal year, schools will be guaranteed equal per-pupil funding throughout Michigan’s public school districts. Jones says it’s unfair that some districts receive roughly $7,000 per student, while others receive up to $10,000 or more. Jones also plans on introducing a separate bill that will assist public schools with busing costs, especially those in rural areas. This bill will pay public schools 50 cents per mile toward school transportation costs.

Through his various proposals, Jones hopes to overcome the setbacks created by Proposal A, which passed in March 1994 and was designed to close the spending gap between public school districts. But over the years, the disparity between districts has grown. Proposal A tied school funding directly to the number of pupils present in each district. However, there are several components, like the economic status of a school district’s residents, that make Michigan’s failing funding system much more complex than this. State funds are only one of three components of per-pupil funding.

The three levels of public education funding — local, state and federal — all play an essential role in Michigan’s public school system. On the local level, schools are aided by property taxes. This becomes a problem for school districts in low-income neighborhoods. Federal aid may attempt to level the playing field by assisting these low-income communities, but the state government is still left to cover the bulk of costs. In order to really solve this funding crisis, local and federal funding systems must be reformed as well.

By solely focusing on state funds, Michigan fails to consider which school districts need more aid due to possible socioeconomic factors. Though Jones’s proposal to equalize state funds brings attention to Michigan’s failing school funding system, more comprehensive reform is required in the long run.