We need more, not less funding for at-risk students

Not all students in the state are the same and neither are their educational needs. When a student walks into school, they carry with them all of the problems they could be experiencing at home, like poverty, abuse, malnutrition, or minimal parental support. That can make it much more difficult for them to achieve their academic potential. It is important for lawmakers to be aware of these differences and keep them in mind when allocating funds to districts, as some districts have more students who need additional support. Without sufficient funding for schools, students who need extra help could be in danger of falling behind. That’s why the state needs to fully fund the At-Risk program and expand its eligibility.

Currently under the program, districts are allocated funds based on the number of their students that are eligible for free school meals. These funds can be used to support students who are considered “at risk.” While the primary goal of the program is to make sure these students meet third-grade reading benchmarks and graduate from high school, the dollars can also support other activities proven to benefit at-risk students, like decreasing class sizes to give teachers more individual time with students who need it, providing adult high school completion programs to increase overall graduation rates, hiring support staff to assist students and investing in new curriculum geared towards helping students with additional challenges.

Helping children succeed through michigans at risk program chart 3As of now, the program is underfunded. There are currently several different proposals to increase funding going through the Michigan Legislature, but even the most generous of those would still short the program by $78 million. When it comes to supporting students in need, we need more, not less.

The need for more funding is best illustrated in the differences in graduation rates between students who are economically disadvantaged and those that are not. The 2016 graduation rate for students from families with low incomes was 67% while the rate for all other students was 88%. Additionally, there are disparities by income levels in 2016 tests for third-grade reading proficiency: nearly 69% of students whose families have low incomes are not proficient, but for students not from families with low incomes, there are almost 38% not proficient. At-risk students experience additional difficulties and barriers in attaining the same level of academic success as their peers, and the state is not doing enough to rectify this apparent imbalance.

There are multiple factors that can contribute to this difference and explain the need for additional support. Parents who live below the poverty line are less likely to be able to be involved in their child’s academic career, because many work untraditional hours or more than one job, for example, which can present challenges to being more involved. The additional stress that comes from living in poverty or moving multiple times can deteriorate the physical and mental health of students in the long-term, and their ability to focus and learn at school in the short-term. Schools need to be able to assist all students to counteract these issues; the fact that the At-Risk program can provide funding to specifically target students who need the most support is what makes it so beneficial.

The proposed increases in state budget funding to the At-Risk program are important to help those who need it most. The financial status of a student’s parents should not have such a large effect on that student’s success in school, and increasing funding for the At-Risk program is an effective way to change that.

— Eric Staats

 

Helping Children Succeed Through Michigan’s At-Risk Program

pdficonApril 2017
Eric Staats, Kids Count Intern

kids count and budget briefTo help improve educational outcomes, school districts must be able to provide additional services and resources to meet the needs of all students. This is the goal of the At-Risk School Aid program; it allocates additional funds to districts in order to assist students who need the most help so that their family’s economic situation does not impact their educational opportunities. Helping children succeed through michigans at risk program chart 1The At-Risk program is fundamental in providing all Michigan students with equitable resources to be successful. Students who are living in poverty face additional challenges in school compared with their peers who come from households with higher incomes. Similarly, students who are experiencing homelessness, are English language learners, or are facing other health or family difficulties often struggle more academically.

DISTRICTS WITH MORE STUDENTS AT RISK REQUIRE ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Under the At-Risk program, districts receive 11.5% of a district’s foundation allowance multiplied by the number of students who receive free breakfast, lunch or milk. Those dollars can then be used to help students who are considered to be “at risk.” Students are considered to be at risk if one or more of the following criteria are met:

  • Helping children succeed through michigans at risk program chart 2Receive free or reduced-price meals;
  • Do not meet proficiency standards;
  • Are English language learners;
  • Are absent for long periods of time;
  • Have recently immigrated;
  • Are victims of child abuse or neglect;
  • Are homeless;
  • Are migrants;
  • Have a family history of school failure, incarceration and/or substance abuse;
  • Are pregnant or are a teen parent; and/or
  • Did not manage to complete high school in four years but are still continuing their education.

At-Risk funds can be used to reduce classroom sizes, which boosts educational achievement for students in general, but the positive results are comparatively much larger for students from households with low incomes since they’re more likely to be in larger classrooms. Funds also support programs for adult high school completion to ensure that students who don’t graduate high school within four years, of which students from households with low incomes are at a greater risk of, don’t get left behind. Additionally, the funds can be used for purchasing educational materials and equipment, hiring staff to support students who are at risk and developing new curriculum, all of which help to create a better educational experience for all students.

Helping children succeed through michigans at risk program chart 3The At-Risk program is important because districts across the state have vastly different proportions of students at risk. For example, in Lake County, 93.4% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch and 45.2% of children are experiencing poverty. Without the At-Risk program, if schools in that county tried to provide additional programs to assist their at-risk students, the other programs in the school would suffer as a result. Compare Lake County to Livingston County, where the percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch is 21.1% and 8.1% of children are experiencing poverty. Lake County has proportionally more students with greater needs; therefore, more funding is required to provide necessary services and programs for their students and to create equity with communities such as Livingston County.

Michigan districts with a larger proportion of students at risk struggle to reach various benchmarks of student achievement compared with those with a smaller proportion of students from families with low incomes or who are at risk, and the At-Risk funding helps mitigate that difference. In the Michigan Education Finance Study, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates (APA) used a number of standards for evaluating the quality of districts and compared the districts that had above-average test scores to those that didn’t. The study found that the districts that met or exceeded the average had a significantly lower percentage of at-risk students in their district than those that fell below. One of the best ways to help these districts and students to succeed is to provide adequate and targeted resources and support.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Fully fund the At-Risk program: The program exists to ensure that districts with a larger proportion of students at risk can provide enhanced services to ameliorate the effects of poverty and related family stress. Increasing current funding would help to mitigate the burden placed on higher-risk districts. The fact is, it costs districts more to provide the necessary supports for students who are at risk. The recent Michigan Education Finance Study done by APA concluded that districts should be spending at least 30% more money on at-risk students. The At-Risk program is one of the best mechanisms to allow districts to reach that goal.

Expand the program to all school districts: Not all school districts are eligible for the At-Risk program. If a school is out-of-formula or a district is hold-harmless, it will not receive money from the At-Risk program. These are districts that have combined state and local per-pupil foundation allowances that are higher than the basic amount, even though they may have a high number of children living in or near poverty. This is particularly damaging in places like the Baldwin Community School District where 85% of its students qualify for free lunch, but it receives no At-Risk funding.

Many bright spots in governor’s budget, but cloud of tax cut still looms

For Immediate Release
February 8, 2017

Contact:
Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517-487-5436

Governor’s budget includes funding for many League priorities that support kids, workers and families

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on Governor Rick Snyder’s 2018 budget presented this morning. This statement can be attributed to Michigan League for Public Policy President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.

“The governor’s budget today is very positive and includes money for many of the programs and services that help struggling workers and families. The League has been a champion for leveraging federal funds to support important state services, and the budget includes $6.8 million to draw down the federal money needed to keep the Heat and Eat program going and $8.4 million in state funds for child care to secure much-needed federal funding. The budget upholds continued funding for the Healthy Michigan Plan, which provides healthcare for more than 600,000 Michiganians with low incomes under the Affordable Care Act, and we appreciate Governor Snyder’s continued commitment to protecting that successful program in Michigan. (more…)

Helping children succeed through Michigan’s at-risk funding

pdficonIn the 2017 Michigan Budget, At-Risk School Aid funding should be fully funded to help our children improve their educational achievement and attain self-sufficiency. Children living in poverty often require additional services and resources, which come at a greater cost to the schools. Because of historical and systemic discrimination, children of color tend to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, creating more challenges for them. Fortunately, Michigan’s school funding formula includes a component that recognizes the extra costs associated with educating children who have been raised in very low-income families and now attend schools with high numbers of children in poverty. Unfortunately, the At-Risk School Aid program has not been sufficiently funded by the Legislature in years. We need to ensure that children are not being held back from academic success because of their economic situation, inadequate housing, poor nutrition and struggling schools, and funding the At-Risk program is the perfect mechanism to prevent this.

Helping children succeed_at-risk graphic1At-Risk Funding Shortfall Affects All School Districts

The At-Risk program, which provides state funds to schools based on the number of children receiving free school meals (kids at 130% of poverty, or $26,117 for a single parent with two children or $31,525 for a married couple with two children), is an excellent tool for targeting funds to districts with high numbers of children at risk of poor educational achievement. However, funds can be targeted toward any “at-risk” student, including victims of child abuse or neglect, pregnant teenagers or teenage parents, students not meeting certain proficiency standards, students that are chronically absent, homeless students, English-language learners, or students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The program focuses on ensuring all students are proficient at reading by the end of third grade and that all high school graduates are ready for college and careers.

Helping children succeed_at-risk graphic2The At-Risk program has only been fully funded for two years since it was first implemented in the 1994-95 budget year. For the current year, At-Risk funding is $134 million below the level needed to fund the formula set in law and the cumulative shortfall since 1995 is nearly $2 billion.

At full funding of the At-Risk program, school districts receive 11.5% of a district’s foundation allowance multiplied by the number of students eligible for free breakfast, lunch or milk in the prior year. In years in which full funding is not budgeted, the amount provided per at-risk student is prorated, which results in districts receiving less than provided in the statutory formula. This budget year, even after the At-Risk program was increased by $70 million, the allocations are reduced by about $186.17 per student, which means that school districts are seeing over 20% reductions in their amounts. This has a detrimental effect on many districts, including large ones that receive a significant amount of at-risk dollars and small ones that may have a high percentage of their students receiving free lunch.

Helping children succeed_at-risk graphic3The 2017 State Budget

Full Funding: While an additional $70 million was provided to the program in this year’s budget, neither the governor nor the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee recommended any additional funding increases to the program in next year’s budget. While the House did provide some increased funding, it was for the expansion of the program to a small number of high-risk districts rather than to reduce prorated allocations statewide. Without more funding, schools will continue to see prorated allocations.

Expansion of Program: The At-Risk program has one major drawback—schools that are out-of-formula or hold-harmless districts are not eligible for funding. These are school districts with combined state and local per-pupil operational funding that is higher than the basic foundation allowance. This unfortunately leaves out a number of districts that have a high percentage of their students receiving free lunch. For example, the Baldwin Community School District, which is the district that covers the largest area of Lake County, has over 85% of its students eligible for free lunch but receives no at-risk funding. Covert Public Schools in Van Buren County has nearly 95% of its students eligible for free lunch but receives no at-risk dollars. The House Appropriations Subcommittee recommended adding an additional $18 million to at-risk student support so that hold-harmless and out-of-formula districts that had more than 50% of their prior year membership students eligible for free lunch would be eligible for at-risk dollars. If this were to occur, it must be done with new dollars to the program so other schools would not see cuts to their at-risk funding.