Opportunity for All: A Celebration of a Historic Win and Next Steps for Fair Funding for All

More than 60 education equity advocates – including local elected leaders, state officials, educators, civil rights, civic and business leaders, supporters and partners – joined together recently to celebrate a historic school funding win for Michigan’s students, especially the most underserved. 

The event, which took place at Fellowship Chapel in Detroit, was a celebration of a systemic change to invest dramatically more in students from low-income backgrounds – and discuss next steps to create a truly fair school funding system based on what leading states and research say is needed to close opportunity gaps for students with the greatest needs.

The celebration centered around a new “Opportunity Index,” which legislators enshrined in law in June. While there’s far greater investment needed, the Index will drive much more state investment in students who qualify for at-risk funding based on a school district’s concentration of poverty, regardless of region. 

The gathering was hosted by The Education Trust-Midwest and the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity (MPEO), who were instrumental in championing the transformational change to Michigan’s school funding formula. With the implementation of the Opportunity Index, Michigan joined the nation’s first ten states with state school funding formulas that include an index for concentrations of poverty, among states with similar funding systems.

“That change is a monumental win for students from low-income backgrounds who have among the greatest needs. Indeed, this is the most important systemic change in Michigan’s school funding system for decades – since proposal A,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest and a co-chair of the MPEO. 

The morning began with guests engaging in a Data Walk, displaying details about the new Opportunity Index.  

In the immediate term, the Opportunity Index will drive more than $950 million to the public education of students who qualify for “at-risk” funding.  The new state funding mechanism also sets new long-term goals for investing in Michigan’s students who qualify for at-risk funding that, upon full implementation and if fully funded, will invest more than $2.9 billion annually in these students. 

The morning’s featured speaker was State Senator Darrin Camilleri. He is the leading legislative champion for equitable funding and the author of the Opportunity Index. This historic accomplishment would not have happened without his tireless leadership. In addition, he led the fight to increase funding for English Learners, who received their largest investment in Michigan’s history in the FY 24 budget.   

Additional speakers included Detroit Public Schools Community District’s Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who talked about the district’s ongoing progress and challenges, as well as the need for greater funding for students with the highest needs.  He was joined by MPEO’s other two co-chairs: Mike Jandernoa, founder & chairman, 42 North Partners, and Alice Thompson, CEO, BFDI Educational Services, Inc., chair of the Detroit NAACP’s Education Committee. 

The Opportunity Index would not be possible without many partners, including from The Education Trust-Midwest and Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity, Sen. Camilleri said.   

“I first want to say thank you to Amber [Arellano], to Alice [Thompson], to everybody who came to our committee and testified and explained the reasons why the Opportunity Index was so critical,” he said. The information from ETM and partners provided the foundation needed “to fight for a program that we know is going to make transformational differences for our students,” Sen. Camilleri said.  

“It’s something that our state has never attempted before, and it’s something that I’m very proud of championing.” 

Thompson spoke of how, while there is much to celebrate, there’s also still much more to do. 

The MPEO recommends: 

  1. Committing to raising at least $6 billion in new annual revenue for public education by 2030. New dollars should be invested in equity before other areas of the state budget. 
  2. Expanding the existing Opportunity Index to account for differences in need among students and communities by increasing the top weight in the index to 100% by 2030.  
  3. Providing weights of at least 80 to 100 percent more funding for English Learners by 2030.  
  4. Providing full funding to support students with disabilities.  
  5. Providing each student with the full funding for all categories of need (at-risk, special education, English Learner) for which the student qualifies.  

“There’s always going to be an elephant in the room. Every good issue has an elephant in the room. Sometimes a gang of elephants,” said Thompson.  

“Don’t worry about the elephants because I have great news for you today: there is an African Proverb that says, ‘working together the ants eat the elephant.’ We may be ants in comparison, but these ants were successful in getting into law the Opportunity Index. When working together in harmony and one accord we can get it done.”

“Together, we truly can make Michigan a top 10 education state for all children,” Thompson said.  

While there is much more to do to ensure every Michigan student has the opportunity to achieve at high levels, the event signified a crucial moment to acknowledge and celebrate what communities and advocates can do when they come together to put students first.  

Photography credit: Hobson Media Group – Photography

By Published On: October 4, 2023Categories: Advocacy, News

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