Once upon a time, not so long ago, Michigan was home to public schools that were among the best in the country. But somewhere along the way, our elected officials decided to stop investing in our state’s most important resource: our children.
In the 2000s, Michigan conservatives pushed to divert public education funding to private schools that were often poorly managed. Michigan now ranks a dismal 43rd in 4th grade reading proficiency and in high school graduation rates, with a persistent achievement gap between white students and students of color, according to a recent report by EdTrust Midwest. Meanwhile, we fund our kids’ public education at a rate that is below the national average.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer committed to education funding in the most recent state budget, but more needs to be done. With more than 500 school districts and 1.4 million students in its public education system, Michigan has a sprawling funding challenge.
Whitmer recently assembled the Growing Michigan Together Council to study population loss and propose ideas for growth and how to reclaim Michigan’s standing as a state with a top public school system. The commission will undoubtedly surface cutting-edge ideas for improvement, but without a serious commitment to increasing annual education funding, these ideas will all be for naught. Michigan needs at least $4.5 billion in additional revenue each year to fully and equitably fund our public schools.
The nonpartisan coalition I lead, Fund MI Future, has a simple solution for how Michigan could raise more revenue, but it will require courage and the rejection of a broken status quo. We could enact structural revenue reforms so that wealthy individuals and profitable corporations pay a little higher income tax. That would benefit everyone in the state, especially our children.
After decades of revenue cuts, Michigan has the fifth-lowest tax burden in the country. If we truly want excellent schools, clean air and water, access to health care, functional public transit, and other amenities that lead to community growth, we need more revenue.
We can’t cut our way to prosperity and success. It’s time that those who have done well in Michigan do right by Michigan and pay their fair share in taxes. Until we address the revenue crisis, even the best ideas from the governor’s council will die on the vine.
MoReno R. Taylor II is the Executive Director of Fund MI Future, a joint effort of grassroots community organizations, labor unions, and policy experts working to create shared prosperity for all Michiganders by fully and fairly funding public goods like schools, roads, and clean water.