Now that the state budget is back on the fast track, it is important to focus on the basics, including reading, writing and arithmetic. The most recent testing results for Michigan students show only a small increase in third-grade reading proficiency—a concern as Michigan moves into the first year of potential retentions of third-graders who are more than a full year behind in reading.
When Michigan’s Read by Grade Three law was adopted, its promise was an infusion of resources to ensure that children were given what they need to read—starting early before children reach the schoolhouse doors. That promise has not been fully realized, so the hammer of retention in third grade is upon us, even though there is little evidence that retention benefits children in the long run.
The Michigan Legislature has the opportunity to begin to fill the funding gaps as it works to finalize the state budget, including:
- More funding for child care—one of the first learning environments for children. The governor included $30 million to increase both reimbursement rates for child care and to expand eligibility for child care subsidies. Michigan’s child care system remains extremely underfunded, with the state having one of the lowest income eligibility thresholds in the country for child care assistance.
- Increased school funding—to address the reality that, when adjusted for inflation, the minimum per-pupil state payment to schools still falls below the level prior to 2012 when school funding was cut. The governor recommended a bold plan to weight per-pupil spending to meet the needs of children who live in high poverty schools or have special needs. The Senate and House rejected that approach.
- More funding for third-grade reading instruction—an urgent need as Michigan begins to implement the Read by Grade Three law. The governor included $24.5 million to triple the number of state-funded literacy coaches in public schools from 93 to 279. The Senate agreed with the governor, but the House provided only $2.1 million for literacy coaches.
Children’s ability to read and succeed in school and beyond is inextricably tied to their circumstances from birth, with children from families living in poverty and children of color facing numerous barriers to educational success. The League urges the Legislature to focus educational resources—from very early in childhood through graduation from high school and beyond—in ways that increase equity.