Repeat After Us: Detroit Public Schools Is NOT Proof Michigan Needs a Better Funding Model

It is proof the state needs a new pension model

The far-left website Eclectablog recently tried to sum up Detroit Public Schools' finances.

It wrote: "So, to summarize, when Robert Bobb took over DPS as the first Emergency Financial Manager in 2009, the school had a $137.1 million deficit and now it’s $238.2 million. In other words, in the 16 years since the state took over Detroit Public Schools because they believed the state could do a better job than the democratically-elected school board, the state government has not only not improved the financial picture, they have actually made it worse. If activists were to get their way and the state was compelled to return control to the local school board, they would be left to deal with almost a quarter billion dollars in debt that they are not responsible for."

"If you are looking for proof that Michigan needs a better school funding model, this, I would argue, is it."

ForTheRecord says: Eclectablog’s analysis lacks sophistication and is inaccurate in stating what the district’s debt was when Bobb took over.

Bobb was appointed by Gov. Jen Granholm as the Detroit Public Schools’ emergency manager effective March 2, 2009. Just three months into his tenure, the DPS debt had grown to $219 million, according to the Michigan Department of Education. Its debt was $140 million in June 2008. In June 2015, the debt stood at $238 million.

As for the claim that the district's problem is related to a “funding model,” that doesn’t make sense in the case of Detroit Public Schools.

DPS received, in state dollars, $791 more per pupil in 2014-15 than it did in 2008-09 when Bobb took over, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

The problem with DPS, of course, is the drop in enrollment. The district lost 48,334 students from 2009 to 2015, a 51 percent drop in enrollment in five years. That’s a loss of $370.2 million in foundation allowance for just one year. (The foundation allowance is about 85 percent of the total funding the state gives a school district).

DPS staffing also went from 12,593 full-time equivalencies (FTEs) in 2009 to 6,535 FTEs in 2014, a 48 percent drop in full-time jobs in those same five years.

Though it lost nearly half its full-time workforce, DPS only realized a 13 percent drop in what it paid to the statewide school pension system. In 2008-2009, it paid $115.4 million to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS); in 2013-14, it paid $100.2 million.

That's not a funding model problem. That's a student flight problem. That's a pension crisis.