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In New Funding System, 'At-Risk' Students Deserve More, Says Michigan State Board

The Michigan State Board of Education has laid out a blueprint to overhaul the way the state funds public schools, including a push to increase the share of money directed to economically disadvantaged students and increase oversight of Michigan's charter school sector. 

In my recent story about interesting states to watch in 2015, I mentioned Michigan in large part because of Detroit, where charters and the state's Education Achievement Authority could be big issues on Gov. Rick Snyder's plate. But the Michigan board clearly has designs on a much bigger overhaul of K-12 in the Wolverine State.

The state board, which adopted its proposal on Dec. 16, calls for a new K-12 funding formula that creates differentiated spending. It would set aside a greater share of money for "at risk, economically disadvantaged" students (under the argument that the current system for increasing aid to such students is out of date) and for districts in geographical areas with higher costs of living. In addition, the board floats the idea of allocating a higher percentage of funds for programs that stress readiness for post-secondary work and careers, ranging from International Baccalaureate and dual-enrollment opportunities to career and technical education programs. 

However, the board members also want to overhaul Proposal A, an initiative approved by voters in 1994 that eliminated local property taxes as a source of school funding, increased the state sales tax to fund schools, and mandated certain levels of state aid to districts with relatively low levels of funding. Board members say that Proposal A has left districts without state funds for capital projects and technology upgrades, and has also hurt property-poor districts that have lost students to other schools. Board members say the state should allow districts to seek property-tax increases in some fashion, among other changes.

"We're not necessarily asking for more money," state board Vice President Casandra E. Ulbrich said in a statement. "We're asking for policies that allow us to spend the money schools currently receive, wisely." 

As for charters? The board wants a new process it calls "certificate of need" that would more tightly connect communities served by charters with the schools themselves. Part of the goal is to ensure equal access to charters. Board members also want greater oversight of "sweep contracts" that largely place budget decisions in the hands of charter-management organizations, an issue recently highlighted by a ProPublica report on charters in Buffalo and elsewhere. 

It's not clear how much traction any or all of these ideas will get with Snyder or with the Michigan legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. Remember, during his first term, Snyder, a Republican, worked on his own vision to fundamentally transform public schools in the state based on course choice and performance funding for schools. Could he revive some of those plans from his "Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, and Any Pace" initiative?

Read the Michigan state board's plan to reform K-12 funding below:

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