Public Education Finance Act

Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace

Editorial: Let dollars follow students

Governor’s proposal altering school funding should get approval of lawmakers

Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder couldn’t care less about how things have always been done in education. He’s not afraid to rock the boat of the Michigan education establishment because he wants one thing: To see this state’s young people compete with their peers nationwide — and worldwide. To help achieve this goal, the governor wants to revamp how education is funded. A new education finance draft is complete, and it deserves the support of the Legislature.

A few months ago, Snyder asked Richard McLellan, a former adviser to Gov. John Engler, to head the rewrite of the outdated School Aid Act — which hasn’t seen major revisions for more than 30 years.

It’s a different world today than it was in the 1970s. Snyder wants school finance to reflect that. With the rise of technology, learning is no longer confined to physical classrooms and students are better suited to learn at their own pace. And technology also allows for better tracking of students’ growth over the school year. Both those concepts are included in this draft.

Ultimately, the 300-page outline McLellan and his team have crafted loosens how funding follows public school students. Under current law, the nearly $7,000 the state allocates per student heads to the student’s home district.

But not all school districts are created equal and not all offer the same caliber or range of courses.

The rewrite would free a student to create a schedule that works best for him — even if that means crossing district lines or attending a charter school or virtual school for part of the day.

Districts would be rewarded financially at a prorated rate based on how much time a given student spends at a particular school.

The thought of such a change has teachers unions and others in public education up in arms. But the reality is this won’t destroy schools in Michigan. It will make them better.

Tying state dollars directly to where students learn is unquestionably better for the student. This system would also encourage young people to earn college credits at a faster pace, if they so desire, and would even reward them financially with a scholarship if they finish high school early.

Reworking the School Aid Act is the perfect complement to what Snyder and the Legislature have already accomplished the past year and a half.

For instance, new laws have expanded charter schools and online schools, reformed teacher tenure and made other policy changes that should keep the best teachers in the classroom. This reform would allow students and parents to capitalize on the new choices on the market without leaving their home district completely behind.

When the governor laid out his vision for education in April 2011, he emphasized an “any time, any place, any way, any pace” approach. The new laws in place help move the state in that direction. But this rewrite would offer the framework so all these disparate pieces fit.

Critics of the draft claim it too-closely resembles a voucher system. But that’s not what this is at all. Private schools aren’t in the picture. State dollars would simply be allowed to follow each student to the school of his or her choice.

After several big pushes for education reforms last year and earlier this year, lawmakers are showing signs of fatigue. But Republican legislators shouldn’t bow to the concerns of the Michigan Education Association and others who oppose this shift. They should follow the governor’s lead and support what’s best for the youth in Michigan.

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to find out more about the School Aid Act rewrite project or peruse the full 300-page draft, visit the Michigan Education Finance Project website: