Michigan lawmakers averted a government shutdown on Oct. 1 by finally agreeing on a budget proposal, but the state’s fiscal problems aren’t over. Kindergarten through 12th grade school districts – left in economic limbo as the legislature considered just how much money would be cut – are increasingly burdened with interest payments on short-term loans to cover expenses like teachers’ salaries and utilities bills. With state educational funding down from $121 million in the 2006 fiscal year to $93 million for the current fiscal year, schools have reason to be concerned. The desperate financial situation that many Michigan school districts face may force drastic cuts, which would put students at a marked disadvantage in the increasingly competitive process of gaining admission to the nation’s top colleges.
As admissions numbers at top-tier colleges and universities around the nation have shown, applicants are more well-rounded and qualified than ever. More students are applying to prestigious schools, and prospective students are applying with higher standardized test scores and higher grade point averages. At Harvard, less than 10 percent of applicants were admitted in the last admissions cycle, the lowest rate in its history. To have a chance at a top university, prospective students must have more than just a high GPA and test scores: They must be involved in sports or other extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, it will be programs like these that are the first to be cut if districts continue to face tight budgets.
Some lawmakers fully expect these cuts and applaud them as the elimination of wasteful spending. Math and science programs – which are integral to districts making the grade on the state’s standardized tests – will not be disrupted, but legislators must realize that a quality K-12 education involves much more than these subjects. Some legislators see art and music programs as well as extracurriculars as luxuries that can be cut, but they are a necessity for making it into top colleges.
As a result of cuts, teachers would have to be laid off, increasing class sizes and eliminating the personalized instruction that separates best school districts from the rest. Less money will be available for textbooks and other educational materials. All of these factors put together would mean that the students graduating from Michigan’s public schools won’t be on a level playing field compared to super-qualified students from other states.
At the University of Michigan, this trend may mean that it would have to accept a larger percentage of out-of-state students because the overall credentials of in state students would appear less impressive. Out of state students are less likely to stay within the state upon graduation, and decreasing numbers of in-staters hinders the University’s potential to supply educated minds to improve Michigan’s flailing economy.
Education in the 21st century is very different from what it was even a decade ago. Current college upperclassman looked at extracurricular activities as an extra boost to their college admissions profile, but today that boost is essential. It may be difficult for state lawmakers to understand that districts must provide classes for more than just what is on the MEAP. It is essential that they abandon their outdated outlook on education.