08/26/2013 06:32 pm ET | Updated Oct 26, 2013

Weighted Funding: What it Is and Why Michigan Needs It

In Michigan, money to pay for public education is allocated by the state on a flat per-pupil basis. That means that every public school district in the state, (charter, traditional, and the Education Achievement Authority (EAA)), receives a flat allotment from the state for each student enrolled in their school.

Let's leave aside, for the moment, arguments over whether the state provides enough money for education. We can discuss that issue another time.

The problem that I want to discuss today is the fact that Michigan's flat per-pupil payment system provides money for schools without regard to what it costs to actually educate each of their students. Ask any school administrator and they will tell you: high school students are more expensive than elementary; special needs students are more expensive than general ed students; students for whom English is a second language (ELL students) are more expensive than native English speakers; the list goes on and on.

The flat per-pupil payment system was fine when students all went to schools in their traditional district because the district could reallocate the money as necessary. But today, if your district has a higher proportion of those more expensive students, it isn't reflected in the funding it receives from the state. And as a consequence, new inequities are created, and inequities that already existed are frequently made worse.

Specialized charter schools, like those serving large populations of ELL students, are penalized. Traditional districts serving higher concentrations of students with special needs are penalized.

Governor Snyder has signaled support for a conversation about weighted per pupil funding, and this is an issue that politicians on the left and right can support, as evidenced in dozens of other states ranging from California to Utah. Let's get a conversation about this issue on the legislative agenda here in Michigan.