Poor Cities Don't Equal Underfunded Public Schools

Michigan Teacher of the Year mistaken on school funding realities

Rick Joseph, the 2016 Michigan Teacher of the Year from Birmingham Public Schools, wrote a column for Bridge Magazine in which he cited funding as one of the big problems facing Detroit Public Schools.

Joseph cited poverty as another factor that has an impact on school performance. The Michigan Department of Education doesn't factor in a student's economic background when evaluating student achievement.  School rankings published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy do adjust for student backgrounds, however, as do similar ones from the Center for Michigan, which publishes Bridge Magazine.

The Birmingham teacher also wrote about the important role parents play in the academic success of their children.

One statistic illustrates Joseph’s point on the challenges faced by schools in Detroit compared to districts like Birmingham. Data collected by the state indicates that in the 2014-15 school year, 12 percent of Birmingham Public Schools’ students were chronically absent, defined as missing 10 or more days of school. In Detroit, 64.8 percent of students were chronically absent.

But on one point Joseph makes isn't supported by the state's data. Joseph claimed schools in poor communities are poorly funded.

Joseph wrote: “This narrative exists all over our state, I have witnessed it in the funding gaps that exist between debt-ridden urban and rural areas and affluent suburbs, from Detroit to Birmingham, Grand Rapids to Forest Hills, or Lansing to DeWitt. Nowhere in Michigan are these inequities more obvious than in Detroit. The city clearly is on an upswing. The motor capital of the world is rapidly reinventing itself with a cool city vibe that is welcome after generations of economic decline. Public education, however, has yet to share in this renaissance.”

There is a funding gap, but not the one he imagines. Detroit Public Schools actually gets far more operating revenue per student than most Michigan school districts, not less. In the 2014-15 school year, DPS received $13,743 per pupil in state, local and federal money. That’s more money than is available to districts in affluent cities such as Ann Arbor ($12,437), Grosse Pointe ($12,149) or West Bloomfield ($10,910).

Detroit gets 45 percent more than the statewide average for all Michigan districts, which is $9,457. Rick Joseph’s own Birmingham district is one of very few where funding exceeded Detroit’s, getting $373 more per student at $14,146.

Joseph also cited poorer Lansing as an example in regressive school funding. But Lansing got almost $5,000 more per student than affluent Dewitt: $13,350 per pupil versus $8,418, or 59 percent more.

Detroit’s public schools have many unique problems and challenges, but funding inequity does not appear to be one of them.

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.