News Story

Ex-ACLU Head Plays Race Card On Detroit Schools

Yet, Detroit receives thousands of dollars more per student than the average Michigan school district

Kary Moss, former executive director of ACLU of Michigan, called alleged funding gaps between the school districts in Birmingham and Detroit an example of “structural racism.”

Moss tweeted that schools serving Detroit where 78% of students are black get $8,000 per pupil, while Birmingham schools serve a 91% white population and gets $11,000 per pupil.

“This is structural racism,” Moss said on Twitter.

Detroit Public School Community District actually received $14,744 per pupil in its general (operations) fund in the 2018-19 school year, when all funding sources (local, state and federal) are included. That comes from the Michigan Department of Education.

The average Michigan school district received $10,487 per pupil in 2018-19. That means the Detroit public school district's general fund received 41% more money for each student than the average Michigan district.

Figures reported by a U.S. Census Bureau National Public Education Finance Survey show that for Michigan school districts with more than 1,000 students, Detroit ranked 15th overall in total funding. This includes all revenue sources, and shows the Detroit district getting $15,891 per pupil from local, state and federal revenue sources in 2018-19.

These school funding figures and data do not support a “structural racism” charge.

The dollar amounts Moss cited likely refer to a state “foundation allowance” that is just one of the revenue streams flowing into Michigan schools. It is allocated on a per-pupil basis and follows each student to whatever school district they attend.

For Detroit’s public schools, the actual 2018-19 foundation allowance was $7,906 per pupil, while Birmingham received $12,164 per pupil. But as the total funding figures above indicate, school districts get much more than just the state foundation allowance.

For example, in 2018-19 the Detroit Public Schools Community District received a total of $30.9 million in additional state dollars for “at risk” students. This is defined as a students who is struggling academically in specified core subjects, is a teenage parent, or has a history of substance abuse or incarceration. Birmingham received just $145,000 in at-risk funds.

Context is required to avoid portraying a false narrative when just comparing different school districts’ state foundation allowance amounts. The foundation allowance is based on a complex formula created as part of the bipartisan, voter-approved 1994 Proposal A school funding reform. Among other things, the formula “held harmless” several dozen school districts including Birmingham with higher local property tax revenue by adding new state school taxes to the funding mix.

Birmingham Public Schools received $19,829 per-pupil in total funding in 2018-19, according to the National Public Education Finance Survey, or $3,938 more per-pupil than Detroit. By using Birmingham schools in her example Moss was comparing Detroit to the state’s highest-funded district (of those with at least 1,000 students). Detroit's total funding of $15,891 per pupil made it the 15th-highest funded district.

The current coronavirus epidemic offers another rebuttal to Moss's accusation. Birmingham Public Schools is eligible for $130,990 in federal dollars under the relief package enacted this spring. The Detroit Public Schools Community District has been approved to receive $85.1 million.