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Will Michigan’s “Top 10 Strategic Education Plan” Work?

Jun 7, 2023 | Education, Michigan | 0 comments

In 2015, a Michigan advocacy organization – The Education Trust-Midwest – set a goal for Michigan to become a top ten educational state by 2030. Shortly afterwards, Michigan’s State Board of Education updated and adopted its own Top 10 Strategic Education Plan. Michigan’s Department of Education has been implementing programs and tracking metrics for the plan ever since.

The most comprehensive rating of state school systems I can find is State Grades on K-12 Achievement 2021 from Education Week (2022 was skipped due to disruption caused by the COVID pandemic). I like their ratings because they seem comprehensive, combining 34 factors that (mostly) seem logical to me. In 2021, Michigan was stuck at 34th place in educational quality in the U.S.

Disappointing results

Seven years into a 15-year plan to become a top ten state, few of the metrics tracked by the Department of Education are showing any significant improvement. The Education Trust-Midwest’s State of Michigan Education Report 2023 is also loaded with discouraging statements:

  • “Michigan…fared worse than many states during the pandemic.”
  • “Michigan’s reading scores are now seven points lower than they were nearly 20 years ago.” (On National Assessment of Educational Progress tests.)
  • “In 2022, Michigan ranked as the 11th worst state for low-income student performance in 4th grade reading…”
  • “…Michigan is one of only fifteen states providing less funding to its highest poverty districts than the lowest poverty districts.”
  • “The statewide average proficiency rate for 7th grade math for all students in 2022 is 30.2%”

Has Michigan devoted serious resources to making the plan work?

Does money matter in creating positive educational outcomes? I got confirmation that it does when I lined up states’ per pupil spending in 2021 with Education Week’s ranking of state educational quality. My spreadsheet is available here:

The top 10 states for educational quality spent from $17,822 to $26,097 per K-12 pupil in 2021. The bottom 10 spent from $9,571 to $13,279. Michigan spent $13,351 per pupil that year. Apparently, like most things in life you get what you pay for in state educational systems.

The 7% opportunity?

It looks like Michigan has a structural problem as well as a budget problem. North Carolina and Michigan have roughly the same number of K-12 students. However, North Carolina serves its 1.5 million students through 115 school districts. Michigan communities host 840 school districts to serve its 1.4 million. 63 of the districts have less than 300 students! The result is that Michigan has to spend 40% of its education dollars on support services while North Carolina only spends 33%. (See Education Expenditures per Pupil 2021) If Michigan had operated with North Carolina’s expense structure in 2021, it would have released an additional $934 per student per year for higher quality instruction — without raising taxes.

This structure is hard to change because Michigan voters like their local school districts and tend to vote against consolidation proposals. Since Michigan – unlike North Carolina – is a “home rule” state, local voters have the last word on consolidation plans. Lawmakers are aware of the problem and budgeted a $237 million incentive program for consolidation in 2022. So far, local school boards have not rushed to take advantage of it.

Acceleration towards the finish line?

Is Michigan willing to put the “pedal to the metal” to hit that top ten rank by 2030? By now, half the time has passed since the goal was announced. The Michigan Department of Education’s annual reports tout its efforts to improve the schools, but the metrics on student outcomes haven’t improved.

Michigan has had a discouraging start to this race towards the top ten, but it is starting to provide more resources to get the job done. To reach the middle funding range of the top 10 education states in 2021, it would have taken about a 50% increase in Michigan’s per pupil budget. Michigan’s School Aid Fund budget in the last year before the COVID pandemic, 2019-2020, was $15.3 billion. The Executive Budget Recommendation for 2023-2024 is $20.9 billion – a 37% increase over 4 years. It is not yet in the top ten range, but it is an impressive effort.

So, Michigan’s leaders have high aspirations to make the state an educational leader. At the same time, outcomes for students have not improved since Michigan set its Top Ten goal and the state is hobbled by high administrative costs. It will be a struggle for Michigan’s education system to rise towards the top, but a struggle worth continuing for the sake of the next generation. If you’re looking for an underdog to root for, Michigan may be the one.

More resources

For more on the importance of K-12 education and what the future could be, take a look at:

Our Kids’ Brainpower Is the Best Investment for 2040

The Extraordinary Class of 2044: A Future History

For a great source on state-level education revenues and expenses, check out this report just out from the National Center for Education Statistics:

Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: FY 21

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