STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Money matters when it comes to high quality education

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

The Washington Post ran a story this week, highlighting disparities in public education funding and calling it "one of the sleeper civil rights issues of our time."

The article points to two new studies that show how disparities in school funding harm students in poverty and the country as a whole.  Here's an excerpt:

In 2012, just 15 states had school funding systems that funnel more resources to students in poor districts than those in affluent districts, according to the Education Law Center’s analysis. The remaining states either devote the same funding to the poorest and richest districts, or they send more to districts serving the most affluent students than they send to districts serving the poorest children. Many students in the poorest districts come to school hungry, are in need of health care or lack a stable home life. Such children generally are considered more expensive to educate. The reports argue that the growing number of poor children and the increasing segregation of impoverished children makes school funding a more urgent issue than ever.

Michigan has what's called a "flat" funding model for schools, meaning there's "no substantial variation" between funding for high-poverty districts and low-poverty districts, even though students in poverty are considered more expensive to educate. 

You can read the two reports featured in the article hereand here.

I thought I'd also use this time to look back at some of our own State of Opportunity reporting that highlights these funding disparities and how they impact Michigan's children.

  • THE EDUCATION GAP -- At a high poverty school in Wayne County, the 5th grade classroom is overcrowded and students have to witness fights in the hallways. Some students are so behind grade level they're still working on addition and subtraction problems. Roughly thirty minutes away at Novi Meadows middle school, the 5th grade student study math with number theory, and they have plenty of room to stretch out on small rugs and yoga mats while they read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. How is it that only 30 miles away, children can be getting such different educational experiences from the public schools? This is what inequitable school funding sounds like.
  • A CADILLAC-STYLE EDUCATION -- The vast majority of Michigan K-12 schools get between $7,000 - $8,000 per pupil every year. But there are some schools that get more…a lot more. We're talking about roughly a $5,000 difference between the richest schools in the state and the poorest schools. Hear what a top dollar education gets you in the state of Michigan.
  • CAN'T WE JUST SUE TO GET ADEQUATE FUNDING? -- A question came in via our MI Curious project from a listener who wanted to know: "Why does the law allow such persistent disparity in school district funding? Could civil rights laws be used to level the playing field?" Check out the answer here.
  • PAY NOW OR PAY LATER? - What if there was a program for kids in poverty that guaranteed at least a $7 return on investment for every $1 spent? What if that same program also improved graduation rates and significantly reduced crimerates? The program exists, it's called the HighScope Perry Preschool Project. You can recreate the high-quality preschool model by doing these four things. Spoiler alert: it all costs money
  • AN EXTRA POT OF MONEY, USED WELL -- We do a lot of stories about what’s not working in education, but with this story we flip the script and talk about a school that’s doing really well, especially for students of color and economically disadvantaged students. A lot of it comes down to money. They have more money in their general fund, and they use it to hire more people: more early interventionists, more paraprofessionals, and more teachers to keep the class size small. And it all pays off with some of the highest test scores in the state.
Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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