Public Education Finance Act

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Guest column: Why is education establishment resisting school reform?

Bridge Magazine

By Peter B. Ruddell/Wiener Associates

It’s about the kids, not the district.

Despite the Center for Michigan’s recent report and Michigan’s mediocre (but improving) education achievement, the entrenched education establishment is arguing the status quo is good for kids. This time the arguments come high atop the traditional education establishment’s ivory tower – from David Arsen at Michigan State University’s College of Education. Speaking for the education establishment, Arsen makes three relatively simple points:

  • School choice is destructive;
  • More money is needed (at the schools Arsen likes, while less is necessary at the ones he doesn’t); and
  • Real-time data systems “generate inefficiency” and are a waste of taxpayer resources.

In addition to these three points, the education establishment continues a barrage of distortions regarding the actual proposed language of the Michigan Public Education Finance Act (PEFA). Every reader of our preliminary reports and bill draft, who truly believes that all students should learn at high levels and be fully prepared to enter the work force or attend college, rejects the hyperbole and misstatements by those readers whose opinions are paid for by education interest groups.

What does PEFA really do?

Despite the distortions presented by the traditional education establishment, PEFA presents expansions on current law and modernization to reflect new innovations in education delivery, such as:

  • Create “Early Graduation Scholarships” for students able to accelerate successful completion of high school.
  • “Membership” in district of residence is no longer controling, meaning a child’s ZIP code will not determine their education opportunities.
  • Change from the concept of “in regular attendance” to “receiving instruction,” meaning removing archaic “seat time” requirement to further allow innovative methods of teaching and learning.
  • Change student counting system to “average daily membership” from existing two-membership count day model, providing resources where students are learning.
  • Create a new “performance count day” as part of the move to performance-based funding.
  • Create an “enrollment district” concept to implement unbundling.
  • Improve Michigan’s education data system to: consolidate reports, create a master reporting calendar, truly leverage improved teaching and learning, and make data available to parents.
  • Encourage district consolidation by allowing a consolidated district to receive the highest of foundation allowances among merging districts.
  • Create incentives for year-round school to fight “summer regression.”

Stop looking in rearview mirror

Does PEFA answer every issue involved in public education? No, nor was that the objective. PEFA looks at one – and only one – state law. Gov. Rick Snyder assigned us to update the School Aid Act of 1979 and propose changes to reflect his education policy objectives. We were not asked to recommend policies, but to implement what the governor had already announced and was working on. Because our assignment was narrow and limited, we did not address:

  • Specific funding issues related to the various funding buckets.
  • Tax and revenue level issues, inequities among districts or overall funding of public education. These are for the governor and Legislature to address each year.
  • Specific limitations on special education or pre-K funding.
  • Proposal A issues or constitutional issues.
  • Other pending legislation amending the state’s school code.

The 1979 funding law is seriously out of date. Significant changes need to be made to alter the status quo and place Michigan students on a more assured path for career or college readiness. The structure of funding does not provide the flexibility or education tools to equip Michigan students to compete in the global economy in an information age. We need to shift the paradigm of education.

It is unfortunate that the entrenched education establishment is not looking out for the best interest of the kids, but for protecting their turf.

Will PEFA initially make budget planning for districts more complicated? Sure. But this temporary adjustment is well worth the investment necessary.

While the education establishment continues to beat the drum that we should not make changes because they are “untested,” the traditional methods and mindsets only can take us so far. Dramatic global technological changes demand a more prepared, skilled and sophisticated work force. It is our obligation today to equip tomorrow’s workers with the tools to master these critical skills.

Our education establishment must shun complacency and mediocrity. It’s about the kids.