For me, September always brings with it one last hurray of camping with friends up north, the start of apple picking, and the regular school bus ride through our neighborhood. This year was no exception, although we faced big transformations in our home – first year on a bus, transition to college and first year playing an instrument and choosing electives. . And all of these changes have added an extra layer of anxiety, on top of all the problems we’ve had over the past few years.
Our teachers and students have faced the trauma of an international pandemic and deadly school shootings, even close to home in Oxford, Michigan, in addition to the normal pressures of school and home. Although my sixth-grader has been back in person for over a year, the last full year his school was undisturbed by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2018-19, was second year. Our ninth graders this year were in fifth grade during this school year. And in addition to the impact these traumas have had on academic learning, they have also had a significant impact on the social-emotional development and mental health of our students.
The budget passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor provides investments that have the power to be transformative for our students, especially if we use this budget as our new base and grow from it.
Notably, the budget recognizes that students have different needs to access the same quality of education as their peers by providing increased funding for students through the so-called “weighted funding formula”. These investments include:
∫ An increase of $450 – to $9,150 per student for all schools – in the basic allocation per student;
∫ An increase of $223 million – for a total of $747.5 million – to the School Aid Budget “at risk” program, which provides funding to students from low-income backgrounds. This program will be fully funded for the first time in approximately two decades, increasing the per-student payment from a prorated $768 to a fully funded $1,051;
∫ A substantial increase in funding for students with disabilities, helping to close the gap between the actual costs of providing special education services and the funding provided to pay for those services; and
∫ Lesser increases in funding for English Language Learners ($1.3 million) and rural and isolated districts ($438,000 in total, which all schools in the Alpena area are expected to benefit from).
However, the state could go even further in its next budgets. Instead of setting a base allocation and providing total spending amounts for various “categories” of targeted investments, the state could implement a weighted “set it and forget it” funding formula. Under this, the state sets a base funding amount per student and then adds weightings to that base payment for children who are learning English or are economically disadvantaged or have
disabilities. In years when school funding is increased and the base payment is increased, the funding would then go through the formula and automatically increase the total funding for those students.
Outside of traditional school funding, the budget includes significant investments in teacher recruitment, school safety and student mental health. Importantly, the budget includes $150 million in a newly funded program to provide per-student payments to districts to improve mental health, including hiring support staff, implementing screening tools and providing school personnel with consultations with behavioral health clinicians.
Additionally, the budget increases funding for mental health services provided by middle school districts, and each of the ISDs serving northeast Michigan is expected to see funding increases by nearly $400,000, as well as for health centers. schools, giving priority to currently unserved counties. According to information from the School-Community Health Alliance of Michigan, neither Alpena nor Montmorency counties are currently served by a school or school-linked health center.
We’ve been disinvesting in our children’s futures for too long, and while this budget alone can’t make up for all the resources that have been missing over the years, it has the power to be transformative. A budget that recognizes the disparate and distinct needs of our students and directs funds to schools and students based on those needs can begin to reverse these trends. But it can only continue to do so if we have the will to continue these investments. We cannot and should not stop now.
Rachel Richards is the director of fiscal policy for the Michigan League for Public Policy.