Adequacy Study Begins in Michigan

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source: Green & Write, November 11, 2015

Augenblick, Palaich and Associates (APA) were recently hired by the State of Michigan to complete an adequacy study of the state’s current school funding system. October 1 marked the beginning of a contract between APA and the state. In accordance with Section 380.1281a of Michigan’s Revised School Code, APA will be conducting a study to determine just how much money is needed to ensure that every student is able to able to meet the requirements of the Michigan Merit Curriculum.

About Augenblick, Palaich and Associates

A private firm based in Denver, Colorado, APA has completed a number of school finance studies for states and districts. The firm has worked with all 50 states in some capacity and they have also assisted in developing a number of states’ funding formulas. In addition to school finance, APA works in the areas of educator effectiveness, program evaluation, early childhood education, and cost modeling.

What Exactly is an Adequacy Study?

A 1989 Kentucky Supreme Court decision, Rose v. Council for Better Education, is often cited as the first school finance case to argue that funding levels were not sufficient for every child to receive an adequate education. Up until this point, such cases had argued for equity, attempting to address spending disparities across schools. In 1989, however, the conversation began to focus on exactly how much money is needed to ensure that all students are able to achieve certain learning outcomes.

Photo Courtesy of Jericho

Photo Courtesy of Jericho

Adequacy studies are often conducted in school finance cases, as well as at the request of state legislatures and other interest groups. A recent report by APA examined 39 adequacy studies and found that there are four main approaches used to determine just how much a district or state ought to spend on its students:

  • Successful Schools/Districts Approach – spending levels in successful schools and districts determine how much others should spend
  • Cost Function Method – calculations are made to estimate how much money is needed to reach certain learning standards while controlling for district and student characteristics
  • Professional Judgment Technique – a panel of education professionals make recommendations on what is needed to ensure all students meet certain learning objectives
  • Evidence-Based Model – education research findings inform spending and program design

 What an Adequacy Study Might Mean for Michigan

Thirty-eight of 39 studies highlighted in APA’s report found that more money was needed for students. Recommended increases range anywhere from $144 to $5,021 per pupil. However, only a handful of these studies have resulted in any sort of implementation from states.

Revisiting Section 380.1281a, it is important to note that there is no language actually requiring Michigan to act upon the recommendations of the adequacy study. Based on the implementation track records of other states that have conducted similar studies, there is no reason to think that Michigan will voluntarily make sweeping changes to its funding system.

Though the state may not take action by its own choice, this adequacy study could very well open the door to future school finance litigation if APA deems Michigan’s funding system inadequate. Districts or other interest groups could potentially bring lawsuits against the state, citing the findings of this study.

While Michigan has long road ahead of itself in ensuring all students have the necessary resources to succeed, this adequacy study is the first step.

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.