News Story

Again, Data Trashes ‘Detroit Schools Underfunded’ Narrative

Yet the actual numbers are easily found on a state website

National media stories often portray Detroit’s conventional public school district as underfunded.

The Atlantic provided an example in a July 6 story on a civil rights lawsuit claiming the state of Michigan is liable for students who attended Detroit Public Schools and did not learn how to read. The article cites the lawsuit as saying, “The lawyers filing the suit — from the pro bono Los Angeles firm Public Counsel — contend that the students (who attend five of Detroit’s lowest-performing schools) are receiving an education so inferior and underfunded that it’s as if they’re not attending school at all.”

The first statement in the introduction to the 2016 lawsuit reads: “Decades of State disinvestment in and deliberate indifference to Detroit schools have denied Plaintiff schoolchildren access to the most basic building block of education: literacy.”

Variations on this “Detroit schools are underfunded” claim are commonplace in the media. But in almost every instance, the claims are undercut by data readily available from the Michigan Department of Education.

Over the last 20 years, the public school district in Detroit has received, on average, $11,797 per pupil for its general fund. The statewide average for school districts over those 20 years was $8,673. Those dollar amounts include local, state and federal funding that flow into school districts’ general fund, which is used to pay day-to-day expenses.

The gap between the per-pupil funding for Detroit’s public school district and the state average has been growing in Detroit’s favor over the last several years.

For example, from 1997-98 through 2003-04, Detroit received on average $1,060 more per pupil than the average Michigan school district. From 2004-05 to 2016-17, that gap grew to $4,234 per pupil, on average, in favor of Detroit.

The data is from 1997-98 to 2016-17, the most recent year the Michigan Department of Education has released.

Evan Caminker of the University of Michigan Law School, Bruce Miller of Miller Cohen PLC and Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel were all identified as lawyers for the plantiff and did not respond to an email seeking comment.