They may be three most important words when it comes to educating our kids: per pupil funding. Essentially it??s the amount of taxpayer money each school gets to hire teachers, maintain buildings, and get resources to make sure our kids can learn. But when it comes to per pupil funding, we are a state divided. And many educators and administrators say most Northern Michigan schools are getting the short of end of the stick.
Traverse City Area Public Schools CFO Paul Soma deals with the numbers of education everyday. He's responsible for making sure every dollar that the area's largest district gets from the state is funneled into the giving students the best education possible. When it comes to Northern Michigan schools getting less in per pupil funding, Soma's feelings run deep. He says "it's unfair, it??s discriminatory, and it needs to change. The fact is this is discrimination by definition, this is discrimination and really in its worst form. What we are talking about is providing resources to give one set of students opportunities and then providing a separate amount of resources that gives students a lesser set of opportunities."
According to Soma, different opportunities based on the different amounts the state pays in per pupil funding. Schools like TCAPS receive the minimum allowance of $6,846 per student. To make his point, Soma points out that students in Birmingham Schools received $11,744 and Bloomfield Hills students were funded at $11,854. To see every school's per pupil funding history over the past ten years, click here. From top to bottom, there is a range of more than 5 thousand dollars. For the most part, the highest funded schools are in Southeastern Michigan. Soma argues, "We wouldn't stand for it if it was done based on the color of one's skin, religion or other areas that discrimination effects, yet we do this for people's zip codes. That discrimination is somehow allowed to continue."
It's not a new problem. In 1994 Proposal A was supposed to fix it. Soma says while it improved the situation for a few schools, it never really addressed the overall problem. In his words, Soma sums up the effort, "some people will say we made some fixes in 1995, 1996 and 1997, to me that's hogwash frankly." He's watched the gap grow over the years, and says while many have explored the problem, and even rallied against it, little progress has been made. Soma says "for 10 years we have been fighting this battle and we have gotten literally nowhere, and some people don't realize it but in the current year the inequity increased...exploring the question of why leads to not getting to answers."
The search for answers often ends up at the State Capitol. For years, lawmakers from our area have called for the playing field to be leveled, equal funds for all students but that hasn't happened. They blame the political power from the south for our school funding gridlock. State Representative Greg MacMaster (R-105th District) says it's pretty simple to explain why nothing has changed, "we would love to see the equitable funding come up but people down south feel we are going to loose it, and if we are going to loose it we are not going to vote for it." So according to MacMaster, there simply are not enough votes in the State House, or down the hall in the Senate to make it work.
To deal with the situation, MacMaster is trying a different approach. He's proposed an amendment to Michigan's constitution. It calls for equal funding for all students by 2015. While the amendment would require the equal funding, it doesn't give a blue print to lawmakers as to how to get there. MacMaster admits it would most likely involve taking money from the rich to give to the poor. He says the better funded districts will have to see incentives to agree to the plan, but says they may see the upside of losing some funding through educational efforts. It's not the first time this idea has been proposed in the House chamber; but unlike past legislation, as a constitutional amendment it's not lawmakers who would ultimately cast the deciding vote. All amendments have to be approved by the general public. So if it clears Lansing, MacMaster's proposal it would appear on the 2014 general election ballot for all of us to decide. MacMaster says "Let's put it to the vote of the people. Let them decide because obviously in years past, the State Representatives and Senators for that fact haven't been able to do it."
We will keep you posted on Representative MacMaster's proposal. In the mean time, we want to know what you think. Should all schools in the state be funded at the same level? Let us know by leaving your thoughts below. We will forward them to our lawmakers.
To email Greg MacMaster your thoughts on school funding click here.
To email 37th District State Senator Howard Walker: firstname.lastname@example.org
To email 104th District Representative Wayne Schmidt: WayneSchmidt@house.mi.gov
To email Governor Rick Snyder: Rick.Snyder@michigan.gov