New Education Laws That Michigan Families Should Know About

Explore the significant changes in Michigan's education laws and their broad impact on everything from school funding to student learning.

Shifts in education laws might seem like faraway chatter with little to do with kids in a classroom, but those changes can impact everything from bus routes to school lunches.

The past few years of legislative sessions have yielded particularly important new laws, says Jen DeNeal, the director of policy and research at The Education Trust – Midwest. 

Changes to laws in the post-pandemic years have high stakes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, education was historically disrupted. Since schools have reopened and kids have gone back to in person learning, lawmakers have been tasked with addressing many school issues laid bare by the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. 

One of the biggest hurdles for school leaders now is finding funds to fill the gaps when pandemic money runs out. During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal funds to the tune of $190 billion were given to schools across the country to use as they saw fit. Now, schools must spend the last of their COVID relief dollars by 2025 (though schools can apply for extensions to use some of the funds in 2026.) 

A state’s action toward filling that funding gap is increasingly important, say education advocacy leaders like The Education Law Center in their 2023 report. The group found that Michigan schools would need $4.5 billion in to “bring districts to funding adequacy based on estimates updated from the 2018 Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative (SFRC) adequacy study” their report says. 

To address these challenges, some of the biggest recent changes in Michigan’s education laws center on how money is allocated to different schools, addressing COVID-19 learning loss, eligibility for free and reduced cost early childcare access and changes to early literacy laws. 

Changes to how Michigan gives money to schools

“Really, I think where we saw some of the most transformative change is in the school aid budget,” DeNeal says. 

The introduction of the Opportunity Index into the fiscal year for 2024 was one of the most important changes to the budget, she says. This new tool for allocating funds to schools based on concentrations of poverty is expected to direct more than $950 million into the education of students who qualify as “at-risk” this year. 

Long term plans for the index would see it invest more than $2.9 billion annually into education for the most underserved students. 

“You can see how that can drive some dramatic change,” she says.  

Schools will also see increased allocated funding for other groups amounting to $11.6 million for rural districts, $39.8 million for English Language Learners, $820 million for special education and $48 million for career and technical education.

“In the last two years, the per pupil foundation allowance has increased from $8,700 to $9,608 per student, a 10.4% increase,” says the Michigan Department of Education in a press release from earlier this year. “Funding for economically disadvantaged students increased by $440 million or 86%; for English learners by $14.6 million or 58%; and for students with disabilities by $325 million or 360%.”

Of these groups, DeNeal points to changes in funding for English Language Learners and for students with disabilities as a particularly large step toward equitable funding for all students. 

For English Language Learners, the funding level has now more than doubled from the past fiscal year. While there is still work to be done, she says this is “a really important change.” 

In the past, kids with disabilities were typically funded less than kids without them, a fact that DeNeal points to as an inequitable allocation of funds. 

 “A child with disabilities has additional needs,” she says. “For the first time ever, this has fully funded the foundation allowance for children with disabilities.” 

Tutoring to address COVID-19 learning loss

Michigan’s students have not caught up from COVID-19 learning loss. During the pandemic years, Michigan students lost 51% of a grade equivalent in math and 45% in reading, according to the Education Recovery Scorecard, a collaborative data project from researchers at Harvard and Stanford. Between 2022 and 2023, statewide achievement in Michigan rose by only 7% of a grade equivalent in math and 1% in reading.  

“On average, Michigan kids are half a year behind in both math and reading,” says DeNeal. “Current estimates are that it would take decades to catch up at our current pace of recovery–and many of our students with the greatest needs had the biggest learning losses.” 

MI Kids Back-on-Track, a program approved in 2023, uses research backed methods to help kids “catch up” from COVID-19 related learning loss. The law provides up to $150 million in grants for schools to pay for intensive tutoring, though finding enough tutors for in school tutoring has proved difficult in the past

The plan stipulates that kids must be tutored a minimum of three times per week for at least 20 minutes per session during the school day in groups of four or fewer. It is expected to run until fall 2025. 

Kids who tested below proficient in math or reading based on the most recent state summative assessment are the targets for the intensive tutoring. Parents who are interested in how their child’s school is using their funds can find detailed information on the MICIP portfolio report provided by each district in the state. 

Changes to early free Pre-K eligibility

Accessing an affording preschool in Michigan can be challenging for some families. A law proposed in 2023 aims to increase the number of families who are eligible for free preschool with the goal of eventually offering free PreK for all families, says DeNeal. 

Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) income eligibility was expanded in 2023 to include families making up to 400% of the federal poverty level. For a family of three, that totals around $99,440 per year. 

Parents looking to enroll their kids in GSRP should know that the program prioritizes the neediest kids and kids with risk-factors like homelessness first. If those slots are not filled, kids from families with higher incomes will then become eligible. 

There are different sites to check based on which county a family resides: FindFreePreschool.org in Wayne County; GreatStartMacomb.org in Macomb County; GreatStartOakland.org in Oakland County; and HelpMeGrowWashtenaw.org in Washtenaw County.

Laws addressing early literacy 

Early childhood literacy is linked to a host of important outcomes–research suggests that how well a child reads by the third grade has profound implications for the rest of their life. 

“Improving early literacy is a critical skill and indicator of future life and academic success,” says DeLean. “In our most recent report, we found that we are not moving in the right direction.”

Currently, our literacy screenings are not designed to specifically screen for dyslexia, she says. By the 2027-28 school year, schools will need to screen all K-3 students for dyslexia at least three times a year. If a student is thought to show signs of dyslexia, a mandatory reporting process and intervention will follow. 

Another change in early literacy is rolling back the compulsory retention element of the third grade reading law, a law designed to force schools to get kids reading on a higher level by third grade or risk being held back. Researchers from Michigan State University found that more Black children were disproportionately retained compared to other groups of children. This rollback aims to address the inequitable application of holding some kids back and not others. 

“We know that our Black and Latino children, and our English Language Learners are just as bright and capable,” DeLean says. “Laws that ensure that students with the greatest needs have resources, funding, access and opportunity are especially impactful for those students but also for the future health of our entire state.” 

Recent educational reforms in Michigan

Big changes are shaking up our schools, bringing better opportunities and more support for everyone. Here’s a look at some of the key developments.

  • Great Start Readiness Program income eligibility was expanded in 2023 to include families making up to 400% of the federal poverty level.
  • The Opportunity Index allocates funds to schools based on concentrations of poverty. It’s expected to direct more than $950 million into the education of students who qualify as “at-risk” this year. Plus, more equitable funding for English Language Learners and students with disabilities.
  • MI Kids Back on Track, a program approved in 2023, uses research backed methods to help kids “catch up” from COVID-19 related learning loss. The law provides up to $150 million in grants for schools to pay for intensive tutoring.
  • Schools will need to start Dyslexia screenings at least three times a year for kids in grades K-3 in the future.
  • The Third Grade Reading Law has a huge change–a disproportionate number of Black students who failed to meet reading requirements were held back. Now, Michigan is removing the mandatory retention element of the law.

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Amanda Rahn
Amanda Rahn
Amanda Rahn is a freelance journalist, copy editor and proud Detroiter. She is a graduate of Wayne State University’s journalism school and of the Columbia Publishing Course at Oxford University. Amanda is a lover of translated contemporary fiction, wines from Jura and her dog, Lottie.

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