School funding – the rest of the story

Senator Patrick Colbeck

While it can be called many things, Michigan’s school funding formula is anything but simple. This fact is never more evident than when trying to explain whether or not one particular school district received a funding increase, or why one school district does not receive the same level of funding from the State as another.

One thing we can state unequivocally – Michigan has increased state spending on education over the last five years from $10,803,402,900 in FY 2010-11 to $12,120,560,100 in FY 2015-16. Where things get murky is how the money is divided up and why.

Take for example the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (P-CCS). The foundation allowance in the FY 2015-16 budget was increased from $7,251 per pupil to $7,391…an increase of $140 per pupil. Adjusting for the elimination of other funding streams that were consolidated this year into the foundation allowance, the net increase per pupil for P-CCS is $36 per student.

But that does not tell the whole story. In addition to an increase in the foundation allowance, the State increased the amount of money put toward the Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System (MPSERS). This fund pays the retirement benefits earned by our public school employees.

Up until 2011, payments were made to MPSERS directly from the foundation allowance funding given to schools. In order to shore up a system that was about to spiral out of control and eat up a significant amount of the foundation allowance funding, the Legislature capped the amount of liability to school districts and began paying money directly into MPSERS. The amount of money being directed to that account has increased every year since then in order to maintain the retirement benefits of our school employees

Over the past five years under Republican leadership in Lansing, the State contribution to the MPSERS on behalf of the employees in P-CCS has increased over $658 per pupil. Had the MPSERS funding liability for schools not been capped and state funding increased, our schools would have $658 per pupil less to spend than they do now.

One final point to consider is the administration of the funds that have been provided to the school districts. Against the backdrop of declining enrollment on the order of 1,115 students since 2011, P-CCS has added over 15 administrators.

Was it truly necessary to add 15 more people overseeing operations, or might that money have been better spent hiring 15 new teachers or increasing the pay of current teachers? Ultimately, that is up to the school board and parents to decide. However I would encourage greater transparency and cooperation from the board with our entire community. It seems instead that some members of the board are deflecting from an examination of their actions and seeking to blame Lansing for perceived funding cuts or parents that choose to send their students to charter schools.

Rather than lament the fact that many parents are choosing to send their kids to charter schools, I believe that the responsible course of action would be to determine why parents choose to do so. Once these reasons are understood, it is up to the board and other school officials to shape the education environment to address their concerns. When they do so, they will stem the exodus of students and force charter schools to improve their performance as well. In other words, everyone wins.

While my colleagues and I continue working in Lansing to simplify the most complex state budget of them all and find ways to direct more dollars to the classroom, I encourage district residents to expand the discussions at the local level. I believe that all of us who believe in public education should not only examine how much money is coming in to our schools but also how that money is being spent. Together, we can make sure that we all remain focused on our funding priority – the classroom. When we do this, we will provide our kids with the quality education that they need for their future success.

Posted in Colbeck-Editorials, Editorials, Uncategorized.