News Story

Analyses Critical Of Michigan School Funding Ignore Almost 20% Of Detroit Operations Money

Reports disregard the revenue source that boosts funding for poor communities over wealthy ones

The Detroit Public Schools Community District receives more money on a per-student basis for its General Fund operations budget than the school district that serves the much wealthier community of West Bloomfield.

The per-pupil funding figures are available in Michigan Department of Education databases and memos. The difference is caused by need-based federal funding that the Detroit district gets due to a large percentage of its students being economically disadvantaged.

For example, Detroit received about $13,841 per student for its General Fund operations budget (local, state and federal dollars) in 2017-18, the most recent year data is available. The comparable number for West Bloomfield was $11,636 per student.

In 2017-18, Detroit received $2,684 per pupil in federal money while West Bloomfield received just $379 per pupil.

That gave Detroit a $2,305 per-pupil advantage in federal funding.

The federal government provides the state of Michigan with about $1.7 billion for education purposes every year, most of which is used for grants to school districts that serve poor communities.

Federal assistance to such districts is relatively stable, and with nearly 20% of Detroit’s General Fund revenue coming from this source, it is clearly a vital component of school budgets.

Yet, educational research organizations often do not include federal dollars when they analyze funding for public schools.

The most recent example is a recent report from the Education Trust-Midwest.

It claimed that “Michigan’s school finance system limits opportunity for children from low-income and rural communities.”

The organization did not incorporate federal funding into its analysis, leaving out the $1.7 billion in federal money the state receives.

“This report focused on dollars directly under the control of Michigan leaders – the state and local tax dollars that make up the vast majority of public school funding,” said Mary Grech, senior data and policy analyst at Education Trust-Midwest, in an email. “Our analysis showed that Michigan is among the worst states in the nation for the gap in funding between higher- and lower- poverty districts.”

Education Trust-Midwest is not alone in excluding federal dollars when it talks about the money available to school districts in poorer communities.

A nonprofit called EdBuild released a report last year, claiming school districts from poorer Michigan communities received less funding than those in wealthier ones.

Matt Richmond, chief programs officer of EdBuild, said federal funding was not included in the analysis because if it were, that would let state off the hook.

Richmond said it was the state’s responsibility to provide equitable funding with its own resources and not rely on the federal government to make up any gap.

A large part of the federal aid school districts like Detroit get comes from a program called Title I, Part A. The money comes in grants that school districts can use to pay for core expenses, including the largest expense, teacher salaries. This lets schools dedicate more money from state and local revenue sources to support school operations.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District will get $103.9 million in Title I, Part A grant funding in the current fiscal year while West Bloomfield Schools will get $355,582.

Title I, Part A funding breaks down into $2,047 per pupil for Detroit and $65 per pupil for West Bloomfield.