News Story

Detroit School Problems Weren’t Caused By Coronavirus Or Funding ‘Disparity’

The ‘poor districts get less’ claim goes against years of data collected and posted by state officials

Detroit Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer sought to connect the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to a claim that the West Bloomfield school district gets much more funding than the Detroit school district, which serves a much poorer population.

In a March 20 column, Kaffer said the West Bloomfield school district provided laptop computers for most of its students while Detroit schools had just one computer device for every three students.

“This is what we call ‘disparity,’ and it’s pervasive in our schools ...” Kaffer wrote, adding that the pandemic has “dragged disparity to center stage.”

The inference is that school districts in poor communities get less taxpayer support than districts in affluent ones. Over the years, similar claims have been made by school administrators in other distressed cities. In this state, they’ve also been made by politicians, including Hillary Clinton, a past Michigan Teacher of the Year, and the Michigan League for Public Policy, a social welfare policy and lobbyist group.

But data from the Michigan Department of Education does not support Kaffer’s claims. West Bloomfield’s public schools received a total of $11,910 per pupil in 2018-19. That figure includes local, state and federal dollars received by the district’s general fund, from which operational expenses, including teacher pay, are paid.

In contrast, the Detroit school district’s general fund received $14,744 per pupil that year. The state average was $10,487. That translates into the Detroit Public Schools Community District getting 41% more in general fund dollars than the average district in the state, according to statewide figures that for a long time have been collected and posted by the Michigan Department of Education.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District was created out of a 2016 bailout of its insolvent predecessor. It began life with a $617 million grant from state taxpayers, on top of the regular school aid payments described above. Under this deal, the state is contributing another $77 million annually to pay off accrued deficits created by many years of overspending.