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Talent & education

Michigan's troubled schools:

Study to measure cost of education unlikely in election year

Election years always make legislators leery. The chances of a school-funding adequacy study being funded this year are thin. (Bridge file photo)

Election years always make legislators leery. The chances of a school-funding adequacy study being funded this year are thin. (Bridge file photo)

With stark divisions in Michigan over how to best fund public schools, one solution adopted by most states is to fund an “adequacy study.” Such studies are intended to determine how much it costs per pupil to offer all students a quality education.

For now, however, funding an adequacy study in Michigan appears to be a political non-starter this election year. Such studies tend to be supported by Democrats and education groups, and opposed by Republicans, who contend the studies invariably conclude that states need to spend more on education.

House Bill 5269, widely backed by Democrats, calls for an adequacy study to determine the cost per pupil to provide an education that would enable a student to meet state standards on the high school Michigan Merit Exam, which includes the ACT college entrance test.

The bill languished in the House education committee until sponsors pushed to get it discharged. It was referred back to the education committee last month. There it sits, with no support from Republicans such as Rep. Bill Rogers, a key voice on school aid.

When Rogers was first elected in 2008, he asked the very question that would seem to be addressed by an adequacy study: How much does it cost to educate a child in Michigan? He said he is still waiting for an answer.

But that doesn’t mean the state should approve the adequacy study bill and have to pony up money to pay for data collection, he said. Rogers said the Legislature should be able to get that answer from Michigan educators.

“Why do I want to pay for a study from outsiders when the information could be there right at the ready at the schools?” Rogers said.

Experts estimate such studies have cost other states from $500,000 to $1 million to carry out.

Rogers argues that term limits, not the absence of an adequacy study, probably present the biggest political barrier to reforming school funding in Michigan. The proposed 2015 school aid budget is the fourth one Rogers has worked on as chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on school aid, making him the longest-serving lawmaker to serve in that capacity. Term limits prevent him from running again this fall, so his replacement will have to tackle the issues.

“Election year, people get a little tentative on both sides of the aisle,” Rogers said. “It takes a while to get to the longer-term, real fixes. It’s not from lack of effort. As soon as you understand things, you’re gone and it starts all over.”

Chastity Pratt Dawsey spent more than a decade at the Detroit Free Press, and is a Detroit native. She can be reached at See more stories by her here.

4 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Bob

    Agree on two points.
    1. School districts should be able to provide data on how much it costs to educate a student. In the bigger scheme of things $500.000 to $1 million isn’t that much, but just throwing money at things doesn’t necessarily equate with good results. That is an old school of thought that seems to be the easy, but often expensive, answer but quite often the positive results are minimal.
    2. I also agree with the statements about term limits. Often a legislator is getting knowledgeable and up to speed on their various roles and then has to leave and hope the “rookie” can learn fast enough to get a handle on things. Not necessarily eliminate, but consider longer term limits. I believe Michigan’s are some of the shorter terms as far as state legislators are concerned.

  2. ***

    It might be a struggle to even get changes to term limits on the ballot, the public perception of politicians has not gotten any better since they were first voted on.

  3. Carol Rard

    This legislature sure seems to believe that giving money to corporations in the form of tax cuts is the way to stimulate business, why wouldn’t giving money to schools improve the ability of districts to provide better education?

    I agree with the opinion that term limits for legislators cuts them out of the job we put them in at the very time they are just learning what to do and how to do it. Also, without the consequences of running for reelection, there is no way to hold them accountable to long term decisions.

  4. Tim

    I have a few questions and points to make here…

    So, paying a 3rd party $500,000 to $1 million to conduct such a study is a waste of money, and “the information could be there right at the ready at the schools”. Who “at the schools” does he think is going to be able to put this type of data together? Much less, have the time to do so?

    Also, just by asking “how much does it cost to educate a child to meet such-and-such achievement standards” shows the ignorance and naivete of someone completely unfamiliar with the students/children in the state! Students/children come from all types of backgrounds and come to school with vastly different home conditions and experiences. Some come with a rich past of parents reading to their children and taking them on learning trips and museum visits, others come without such experiences and have more immediate concerns on their minds (i.e., where and when am I going to eat next?). Saying that these students/children are somehow comparable in the time, money, and resources that it will take to get them to such-and-such achievement level is both ignorant and foolish.

    There are so many problems and difficulties in trying to determine this “cost” that I can’t imagine such a “cost” can be accurately determined. I think it’s very dangerous to quantify such a “cost”, and in doing so, will create a whole host of other problems, difficulties, and questions.

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