Working with Michigan schools we experience our own seasons, and spring brings a couple of important pieces to the school funding puzzle. First, the Governor and State legislators lay out their proposed upcoming budget which can have a significant impact on students and education. This is also the time of year when those of us in the school business start to plan for how the upcoming year’s financial resources can best be spent to improve student achievement.
Although recent years have seen incremental increases in per pupil funding here in Michigan, we continue to recover from the $470 per pupil funding cut in the 2011-12 school year. Governor Snyder proposed his budget a few weeks ago with $100 per pupil increase. Since then, both houses of the state legislature have come out with similar proposals. A couple of the important points are:
- The Governor’s recommendation of an additional $50 per pupil for high school students, reasoning that, among other things, high school students are more expensive to educate than their younger counterparts. Until there is equitable funding for charter schools to recognize and rectify the inequity of the base, it makes no sense to go down the road of more refined differentiation built on such an uneven base.
- The Senate’s proposal to take some of the funds that have been used in recent years to offset the increased traditional pension system costs and putting them back into the foundation allowance. This trend is one that we can really support. We, as charter school operators, work to find alternative ways to support our teachers’ retirement and the failed system of the traditional district’s unaffordable and unfunded retirement is not something that should take money away from today’s students.
- All three proposals include increasing funding for at-risk students. This funding is very valuable in areas where children’s needs are the greatest. In our work with many charter schools, we see that at-risk students require not only additional curricular resources, but also additional staff that can meet their needs on a more specific level.
At CS Partners, our work with our school leaders and boards on budgets at this time of the year is critical. Not only are we ensuring that the current year’s resources continue to be spent in accordance with the school’s plan, but we are simultaneously looking forward to next year’s resources and challenges. For the last few years, we’ve applied an approach to budgeting that starts with the 3-5 most important priorities of each Academy.
A common priority of all schools is staff retention. In the current teaching environment where teachers are in high demand, the retention of our best teachers is critical to the success of kids. We continue to work to secure the best salaries and benefits that funding will allow for our staff, and spend the majority of our planning time designing a quality staffing plan for each school year.
Other priorities include everything from roofing and security systems to Chromebooks and other technology needs. Each school’s unique mission and vision drives their priorities. We are continually examining the resources available to ensure the most essential priorities are addressed.
It will be well into the warm months of summer before all the 2017-18 puzzle pieces are in place for schools, but with adequate preparation we’re looking forward to another successful school year!
Written by: Laura Carpenter, Comptroller at CS Partners