News Story

Affluent School Districts Benefit From Expanded State 'At Risk' Spending

Flint still gets more overall, but its increase smaller than Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe

Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget for next year would send state money intended for economically disadvantaged students to affluent school districts like Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe.

Districts like Flint that have larger at-risk student populations will still get more of this money, but the increase for these wealthier districts will be larger than Flint’s increase.

That’s because Snyder’s budget expands the funding to cover students eligible for “reduced-price lunch” as well as the lower-income “free lunch” students. Eligibility for these benefits is the state’s proxy for defining which students are considered to be economically disadvantaged.

Michigan currently has 600,000 students who qualify for federal free lunch benefits, and 85,000 students who qualify for a reduced-price lunch. In effect, the state is adding 85,000 students to the at-risk funding pool.

In the current school year, Flint schools received $3.3 million in state at-risk funding, while Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills received none. But if this provision of Snyder’s budget is adopted, next year Flint would get an additional $309,000 in at-risk funding while Bloomfield Hills would get $362,000 and Grosse Pointe would get $823,000.

In Michigan, poorer communities' school districts get more money per pupil than more affluent communities due to more federal funding and the state’s at-risk dollars.

State figures show that 88 percent of Flint students qualified as economically disadvantaged in 2015-16. That meant that nearly 9 out of 10 Flint students qualified for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program.

At the Grosse Pointe district, 13 percent of students qualify as economically disadvantaged while the number is 9 percent at Bloomfield Hills.

According to the U.S. Census, 41 percent of Flint’s residents lived in poverty, and from 2011 to 2015, the median household income was $24,862. By comparison, 5.3 percent of the residents of Bloomfield Township were in poverty and the median household income was $112,154. In Grosse Pointe, 2.8 percent of residents were in poverty and the median household income was $98,578.

"We are thrilled to see more attention placed on all at risk students across the state, regardless of the district they attend," said Shira Good, spokeswoman for Bloomfield Hills Schools, in an email. "Each and every support we provide has an associated cost and the proposed funding would be helpful."

Grosse Pointe Public Schools Superintendent Gary Niehaus said the demographics have changed in some of the more affluent districts in the state since 2008.

“The funding should follow the student wherever they go to school in Michigan,” Niehaus said in an email. (Click HERE to read his entire email.)

Ari Adler, the spokesman for Gov. Snyder, laid out the details of the expansion in an email.

"The recommendation expands funding for at-risk students to get help to more kids, not specifically to increase the funding for students already in the at-risk category," Adler said. "The decision was made that at-risk funding would be expanded so that every district receives an estimated $778 per pupil, regardless of their zip code. Even so, note that the $778 is higher than the $673 currently provided, so districts with at-risk students will receive more funding for existing students in that category, as well."

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.