News Story

Poor Cities' School Districts Receive the Most Funding

In Michigan, poverty at home doesn't translate to a poorly funded classroom

The city of Flint has more than twice the percentage of people living in poverty as the state average. And Flint Community Schools has been running a deficit since 2010-11.

But poor cities such as Flint don't necessarily translate into poorly funded school districts. Flint schools isn't losing money because of a revenue problem.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, Flint received a total of $13,127 in total per-pupil revenue in its general fund (local, state and federal dollars) in 2013-14, making it the highest-funded district in Genesee County.

By comparison, Goodrich Community Schools is about 17 miles away in the same county. Goodrich received $8,583 per pupil, about $5,600 less per pupil than Flint. And Goodrich isn't in deficit.

However, when talking about school funding, State Superintendent Michael Flanagan appeared to link a city's residential wealth, or lack of it, to the funding of its school districts.

When reporting on the number of districts in deficit, Flanagan said the governor's proposal to increase funding for at-risk students is an important step, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Free Press reported that Flanagan said part of the problem is that it's often these high-poverty districts that end up with deficits. Many, Flanagan said, are forced to cut their programs.

“Which is then this vicious cycle,” Flanagan said. “These are the kids that need the most help.”

Yet, the Michigan Department of Education's own data shows that six districts in cities that are among the poorest in the state have deficits — and are among the highest in per-pupil revenue.

Five of those six school districts receive more money per pupil than any other conventional school in their county.

While 16.8 percent of the state population lives below the poverty level, the percentage is much higher in these cities: Pontiac (36.6 percent), Saginaw (37.4 percent), Albion (38.7 percent), Detroit (39.3 percent), Flint (41.5 percent) and Benton Harbor (48.4 percent).

All six cities have school districts that are in deficit financially.

All except for the Benton Harbor district had the most per-pupil funding among conventional school districts in their county. The dollar figures are for general fund revenues, which cover general operations of a school district, such as salaries, benefits and classroom expenses. School districts receive thousands of dollars more per student from local millages, ISDs, special education, and other funding sources.

Flint Community Schools: $13,127; 1st in Genesee County.

Saginaw City School District: $10,180; 1st in Saginaw County.

Pontiac School District: $16,833; 1st in Oakland County.

Detroit Public Schools: $12,931; 1st in Wayne County.

Benton Harbor Area Schools: $11,607; 3rd in Berrien County.

Albion Public Schools: $15,401; 1st in Calhoun County.

The state-wide average is $9,121 per pupil in general fund revenue. Schools also receive thousands more per pupil from local millages, ISDs, special education, and other funding.

“It's clear that these school districts are struggling,” said Audrey Spalding, education policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “But the reason isn't that they aren't getting enough money. At some point, leaders have to acknowledge that the problems in some school districts are a symptom of mismanagement, not a lack of resources.”

Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said the political system showers underperforming schools districts with the most money.

“People think money solves problems. If you don't have problems, why would you throw money at it?” Drolet said. “The worse you do, the more money you get.”

School districts are not rewarded if their students perform well, he said. Often times, Drolet said, they are punished.

“The more successful your school district, the less Lansing is compelled to send an additional dollar,” he said. “In real life, the worse you do, the less you get. In the world of government, the worse you do, the more you get.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.