Education Policy Expert Provides Important Perspective on New School Finance Study

Increased funding won’t automatically improve educational outcomes

Friday, January 19, 2018

Ben DeGrow
Director of Education Policy
(989) 698-1941

MIDLAND — According to a new study made public Wednesday by the Michigan School Finance Collaborative, Michigan’s current per-pupil spending level is insufficient. But academic research and recent work by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy shows that how money is spent matters more than just how much is spent.

"Placing faith in more tax dollars as the solution to Michigan's education woes is misguided,” said Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center. “A look at the actual funding inputs and trends suggest a new approach is needed to get some real bang for the buck.”

While the Collaborative focused on district-level spending, the Mackinac Center’s 2016 study School Spending and Student Achievement in Michigan looked at education expenditures and outcomes at the individual school level. The Mackinac study showed that a 10 percent funding increase would improve 7th grade math scores by one half of 1 percent and would have no positive effect on the other 27 academic outputs measured.

One of the groups that co-authored the new Collaborative report – Colorado-based Augenblick Palaich and Associates – also produced Michigan's state-financed 2016 adequacy study, using some of the same methodology as before. Yet the funding amounts proposed in the new report differ greatly, creating confusion over the significance of the recommended price tag.

The problem is not a lack of adequate funds but rather the way those resources are being spent. Currently, Michigan’s per-pupil spending is at an all-time high of $14,108, while the School Aid Fund — which provides the majority of school funding — continues to grow. Meanwhile, educational achievement and outcomes in Michigan are declining, or, at best, stagnating.

“There is no magic per-student dollar amount that will promise real gains in learning. But when larger shares of the money school systems take in are attached directly to the students and their needs, schools have a stronger motivation to ensure those students are successfully educated. The state should ensure broad access to real education alternatives to offer more direct accountability and the chance to deliver better academic results for Michigan students,” DeGrow said.

Read the 2016 study here.

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