On the heels of sweeping education changes proposed late last month by Gov. Rick Snyder, who has not shied away from sometimes controversial reforms — love ‘em or hate ‘em — Lansing lawmakers, including state Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-Highland, White Lake), are attempting to change the formula by which the state’s per-pupil funding is calculated. The proposal, House Bill (HB) 4562, which got a lukewarm response from the chairman of the Appropriations Committee where it was referred, would base state funding for public education on a school district’s previous academic year student enrollment instead of the cumbersome blended count currently used. Due to what seems to be declining enrollment across the state, including in the lakes area, not to mention the added measure of certainty it would provide to school officials as they devise their annual budgets, the proposal warrants lawmakers’ serious consideration.
Beginning next school year, under the proposal from state Rep. Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton), per-pupil funding would be based on the number of full-time equated students in kindergarten through 12th-grade “actually enrolled and in regular daily attendance on the pupil membership county day for the immediately preceding school year.” This per-pupil allocation equation would apply to a public school district, public school academy, university school, or intermediate school district.
At this time, per-pupil funding is based on a blended formula — 75 percent of funding is based on current academic year enrollment, with the other 25 percent based on the previous year’s enrollment.
For now, it appears that the legislation would help districts attempting to cope with declining student tallies, particularly after years of growth in enrollment — which was one of the main arguments for the blended count per-pupil formula in the first place. But now, given the toll that the economic malaise has wrecked on the state, causing people and families to search for greener economic pastures elsewhere, school districts — including the Huron Valley, Walled Lake, Waterford, and West Bloomfield districts — have reported dwindling student counts over the past few years.
So logically, the legislation would result in more money — however modest that sum may be — for the state’s cash-strapped districts that are clamoring not only for their share of the state pie, but also for more students. The increase in revenue would be a good thing, particularly given the proposed cuts to the per-pupil allowance that are all but written in stone. Districts have bandied about budget cut figures in the thousands of dollars per pupil that they will be facing, although not all of that total is from a state Legislature hell-bent on slashing-and-burning its way to a balanced state budget by June 1; some of that is from other factors like retirement and health insurance rate increases and the use of temporary state and federal funding during previous fiscal years to bring their expenditures and revenues in line.
Nonetheless, the $430-$467 per-pupil reductions — proposed under the omnibus education budget passed by the state House last week — that the four area districts are looking in the eye are no less daunting. For example, the state budget projects Waterford Schools will lose $3 million in Fiscal Year 2011-12, which begins Oct. 1. Huron Valley Schools will lose $2.66 million; Walled Lake, $4.75 million; and West Bloomfield is facing a $2 million loss. Call those figures a demonstration of fiscal responsibility or call them Draconian; that polemic is not one we are arguing. Instead, we are saying they are nothing to sneeze at. So schools are going to need all the funds from Lansing they can get their hands on, and this would — while perhaps the public policy equivalent of docking your child’s $20 allowance to $10, and then trying to pass off a 25-cent raise as a great thing — bring in some additional dollars, at least for the time being.
Which brings us to budget certainty. If nothing else, due to the severity of the cuts and the possibility of future, perhaps harsher cuts that can’t be predicted, it would do well for school districts to have concrete, tangible figures that their upcoming budgets will be based on. The proposal would effectively eliminate the uncertainty that school districts operate under when it comes to budgeting based on blended student counts. And while we realize school districts can be pretty accurate in this annual guessing game, it doesn’t hurt to have concrete student enrollment totals to avoid any unforeseen funding shortfalls midway through an academic year.
State Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Orchard Lake), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, was tepid about the proposal earlier this week, leading us to believe it doesn’t have much of a shot at passage at this point. But we hope that changes, and we hope the measure’s other detractors rethink their position. It seems like a win-win for school districts not only in terms of funding in light of dwindling student head counts, but would also provide a measure of certainty during the annual budgeting process.