Public Education Finance Act

Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace

Editorial: School Aid rewrite on right track

The governor initiated revamping how schools receive state money, and it could lead to better options for students

The Detroit News

The past two years, Gov. Rick Snyder has nudged school districts to embrace money-saving goals and innovative approaches to teaching through a number of best practices. Many districts have complied, since meeting the benchmarks translated into more money. The governor now wants to transform how the state’s School Aid Act operates, changing the model of how schools receive money from the state. His plan for rewriting the fund makes sense and meshes well with his vision for improving learning in Michigan’s schools.

The last time the School Aid Act underwent any major changes was 1979, so it’s time to update the funding plan and incorporate a 21st-century approach to education. The team overseeing the rewrite aims to have the project completed by early 2013 — before the governor gives his next budget address. That’s a challenge, but the participants seem up to the task. The rewrite group is directed by Richard McLellan, former adviser to Gov. John Engler. Bill Rustem, Snyder’s strategy director, is also heavily involved.

The team would like input from a variety of groups, including lawmakers, teachers and administrators, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan and unions.

During his tenure, Snyder has promoted the adoption of legislation that’s student-focused. Rewriting the fund will better reflect these changes.

According to a memo from McLellan, the current school funding program is “severely out of date” and “prohibits the effective implementation of many of the new education concepts.” When Snyder gave his special education message last year, he emphasized creating an “any time, any place, any way” model of teaching students. He’s a strong proponent of school choice and has supported lifting the cap on charter schools as well as expanding virtual learning options. Snyder also wants to help motivated students earn more college credits while still in high school.

The governor doesn’t think school funding should be tied to school districts; he’d rather see funding that follows each student. The rewrite wouldn’t go as far as to create a voucher system but would highlight the needs of individual students. And the governor is much more interested in rewarding schools based on performance, not just on how much time students are in their seats — like the system is designed now.

As Rustem notes, Michigan is traditionally one of the top states for education funding but falls toward the bottom when it comes to student performance. This highlights the need for smarter spending.

This plan acknowledges schools’ troubles have little to do with the amount of money they are receiving. Rather, the state should encourage schools to offer as many options to students as possible, preparing them for a competitive future. That’s a great goal.