While advocates for more money for public schools say school districts are facing a financial crisis, one point they concede is underplayed: the districts claiming distress overwhelmingly have declining enrollments.
So, should a district that has fewer students to teach each year receive more money?
While districts with as differing demographics as Alpena and Detroit and Ashley and Flint ran deficits, they shared one common characteristic — declining enrollment. In fact, 39 of the 47 conventional public schools in deficit in 2012-13 had declining enrollments from 2008-09 to 2012-13.
The state has increased overall state funding to K-12 education from $12.9 billion in 2012-13 to $13.4 billion in 2013-14. Federal dollars also increased in that last year from $1.701 billion to $1.764 billion. Yet, overall student enrollment in public schools dropped from 1,536,600 students to 1,530,500.
A majority of school funding in Michigan is tied to a per-pupil foundation allowance, which consists of local and state money that is used for general operations. When enrollment drops, so does this funding.
Yet, some advocates say they still need more money despite educating fewer students.
Livonia Superintendent Randy Liepa has been quoted by the statewide newspapers on why he thinks his district has less money than 10 years ago.
Liepa acknowledge that overall funding for state schools may have increased, but said in an email, " … school districts still may have less money to work with for their day-to-day operations."
Livonia's per-pupil amount from the state increased from $6,527 in 2010-11 to $7,542 in 2013-14. Excluding money used for the public school employees' retirement system, Livonia receives about $7,117 per pupil.
In an email, Liepa made his case for more money despite losing 1,100 students the past three years.
"Enrollment decline has hit our district (and many other districts in Michigan) hard. We cannot reduce expenditures at the same level we lose revenue," he said. "We have lost 1,100 students since 2010-11, which is about what we expected based on live births in our area. If we could reduce one teacher for every 30 students we lost — which we cannot, as an example, we have over 800 classrooms in our district, which means since 2010-11, we have lost an average of about 1.3 students per classroom — and if we estimated a savings of about $75,000 per teacher — probably a bit high — our savings would be, at best, $2.75 million. We lost well over $8 million in revenue."
Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, doesn't buy into the argument that schools need more money when they are serving fewer students.
Drolet questioned whether Livonia couldn't reduce expenditures when it could predict enrollment was going to decline due to a reduction of live births in the area. Drolet said that signal had been out there a while.
"The public schools use public school math. The answer to every math problem they have is, 'Send me your money'," Drolet said. "That isn't the kind of math that happens in every other organization, whether it be a family or a business.
"The only place that can make that claim with a straight face is a public entity like a public school. Everyone else doesn't have a government that can take for them."