Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity Members Advocate for Fair Funding for Michigan’s Students with the Greatest Needs at Second Annual Advocacy Day

Ensuring that students who are underserved, including those who are multi-lingual learners, is a priority that hits home for many, including Adnoris “Bo” Torres who migrated from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, to Battle Creek, Michigan at the age of nine. Those who struggle in areas such as language accessibility, many times do so because of a lack of school funding and resources to support students with additional needs.  

While the state made historic progress last year thanks to the leadership of our legislative members –including through a new school funding mechanism that for the first time includes an index to account for concentration of poverty in school districts – Michigan continues to underfund our students who have long been underserved. Too often, students who live in communities with significant poverty and students with the greatest needs – including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students with disabilities, English Learners and students in rural and geographically isolated areas – do not receive the funding and supports they need to thrive in school and in life.  

Continued relationship-building between community members and lawmakers is a key step to ensuring an excellent education for every Michigan student. That’s why more than 30 Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity (MPEO) coalition members engaged in a day of advocacy in Lansing on April 24 with dozens of legislative members and staff to discuss the urgency to act now and build upon last year’s historic school funding improvements. Among the recommendations: Michigan should commit to fully fund the Opportunity Index, which is the new funding mechanism to account for concentrated poverty in school districts – and increase funding for the needs of students from low-income backgrounds, English Learners and students with disabilities. 

The needs of English Learners are something that Torres sees firsthand in the communities where he works. “For us, language accessibility – and growing that inherent skill – is crucial,” said Torres, a project supervisor at Strong Beginnings-Healthy Start and member of the MPEO. “The work of the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity provides a path to ensure full funding is accessible for bilingual education, English Language Learners, and the global majority of students.”  

Research recommends that English Learners receive at least twice as much funding as native English speakers to provide them with the additional resources and instructional supports necessary for language acquisition 

MPEO is a state-wide bipartisan group made up of a diverse spectrum of Michigan’s civil rights, business, community-based non-profits, parent organizations, and other sectors – tri-chaired by Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest; Alice Thompson, chair of the education committee for the Detroit NAACP and the CEO of BFDI Educational Services, Inc.; and Mike Jandernoa, founder and Chair of 42 North Partners and Chair of the West Michigan Policy Forum Policy Committee. 

“As I reflect on how far we’ve come in just over a year, I am pleased by the tremendous progress we have made on behalf of Michigan’s children. Our work has led to not only historic policy changes and funding but has also shifted the conversation from not if but when we will achieve equitable funding for all Michigan’s students,” said Thompson. “The level of understanding and commitment among legislators and their staff is so much deeper than a year ago. This no doubt can be attributed to our coalition’s relentless advocacy for all students, and particularly our most underserved students.” 

“As a former legislative staffer, I know the importance of building relationships and providing accurate information that is easy to digest,” explained Jeff Cobb, Ed Trust-Midwest’s director of government affairs. “Our conversations with legislators on Wednesday continue to build our reputation as honest brokers of information and as powerful advocates for those students who have long been underrepresented.” 

Participants have shared that the experience is uplifting, and the conversations throughout the day leave them inspired to continue these efforts on behalf of students with the greatest needs. 

“Having the opportunity to advocate with the MPEO Coalition for equitable education, not only for Black and Latino students, but for Arab American students as well, gives visibility to our students that have consistently gone unrecognized,” said Sara Ismail, public policy associate with ACCESS. “This is definitely a step in the right direction to meet their needs. I look forward to continuing these efforts for all of our students in Michigan.”

“Being able to share personal stories along with research and data with legislators provided the opportunity to have fruitful conversations during this ever so important budget season,” explained Alexandra Stamm, education policy analyst at Michigan League for Public Policy and a former educator.  

“Although we have a long way to go in order to make Michigan a top 10 state for education, spreading awareness about the importance of adequate school funding, especially the Opportunity Index, gives us hope that we’re on the right path,” said Stamm.

The MPEO envisions that Michigan will be a national leader in public education, where all children achieve at high levels, regardless of race, gender, disability, family income, native language, or geography. To ensure this ideal is attained, cultivating meaningful relationships between advocates and policymakers is the key to progress in the fight for education equity. 

For more information about the MPEO, visit partnersformistudents.org.  

By Published On: April 30, 2024Categories: Advocacy

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