School Spending Plan Doesn’t Make the Grade

by | Dec 27, 2023 | Opinion

By Molly Macek

Student achievement continues to decline despite record spending on K-12 education. Yet the Grow Michigan Together Council believes Michigan officials can improve results — and increase the state’s population — by spending even more on public schools.

This and other recommendations made by the council are unlikely to produce the education outcomes outlined in the council’s report.

The report attributes schools’ poor performance in part to a systemic underfunding of schools. But an analysis of K-12 data over the past 10 years reveals that standardized test performance remained stagnant or declined while inflation-adjusted spending on education increased by nearly 30%. Just adding more money is not the answer to the state’s ongoing achievement problem.

The report recommends creating the Michigan Education Guarantee, a standard that is supposed to ensure every student graduates from high school with the competencies needed for the workforce. But the state already has curriculum standards that are allegedly designed to prepare students for college or a job. Allocating resources to yet another assessment of the state’s standards seems redundant and a waste of time.

The Michigan Merit Curriculum was adopted by the Legislature in 2006 to ensure all high school graduates demonstrate proficiency in the content areas defined by the state’s academic standards. The curriculum, “if properly implemented, will prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in our global economy and an emerging workforce,” according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Standards for each academic subject, in turn, were designed to make students “college and career ready.” They provide a detailed roadmap to guide the teaching and learning of specific content and competencies in every subject and grade level. State assessments are aligned with the academic standards to assess student progress toward meeting the benchmarks outlined for each year of coursework.

It is unclear how the council’s Michigan Education Guarantee could improve on what the state already tries to do in determining curriculum standards. Either way, this effort has a major shortcoming: It requires knowing in advance what skills and jobs will be in demand. The only improvement the council could make here seems to be improving the state’s ability to predict the future.

The Michigan Education Guarantee would also require taxpayers to pay for a 13th year of schooling for students who don’t achieve proficiency in the standards by the end of 12th grade. This is an odd strategy, as it seems to reward schools that fail to graduate students on time. It would increase overall costs, although how many students might require an extra year is difficult to estimate. Advancing students who are unprepared for the next grade is a systemic problem in Michigan public schools, and the failure of districts to implement the Read by Grade Three law as intended is an example. This contributes to high school students in Michigan not being ready for college or the workforce.

Adopting these recommendations would also mean all students receive two years of free postsecondary education. This strategy would divert resources away from the K-12 system that is in greatest need of reform. It doesn’t matter if the tuition is free if the students still lack the skills needed to succeed in a postsecondary program.

The council also recommends that funding follow each student to the postsecondary school of his or her choice. This is a good idea, but a much greater impact could be realized by expanding this funding opportunity to all K-12 students — especially those falling behind — so they can secure educational services from the provider that best serves their needs.

The Growing Michigan Together Council’s recommendations will require the state to pour taxpayer dollars into initiatives that do little to improve student performance. Improving accountability and providing school choice for students most in need of learning support will go further to reverse the downward achievement trend — and might attract families to the Great Lake State, too.

Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.

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