News Story

False ‘School Funding Cut’ Claim Must Be Useful

But pesky state spending data keep getting in the way

Newly sworn-in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned on the claim that Republicans who controlled the state Legislature the past eight years were “slashing school funding.”

The same claim was repeated constantly in 2014 by gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and other Democrats – until the mainstream media acknowledged its inaccuracy and began reporting state Department of Education and other data debunking it.

The myth that public schools in Michigan are getting less money today than in 2011 when then-Gov. Rick Snyder took office is one of the most enduring falsehoods of the last decade.

Michigan Capitol Confidential first reported in July 2013 that state financial records refuted the myth of slashed school funding. Michigan Capitol Confidential has published more than 1,000 articles over nearly nine years on school funding issues.

The myth lives on in part because Michigan’s legacy media outlets have been inconsistent in their reporting on school funding.

The Detroit Free Press, for example, was one of the first newspapers to acknowledge that school funding had not been cut by Gov. Rick Snyder and a GOP legislature. On Feb. 2, 2014, the Free Press discredited claims that Snyder had cut $1 billion from K-12 funding, showing that he had instead increased K-12 funding.

MLive followed on Feb. 5, 2014, with a story that stated that the Democrats’ “Snyder cut $1 billion” claim was not true. On Oct. 16, 2014, the Citizens Research Council chimed in with evidence that school funding had increased under Republicans, not been cut.

But less than a year later, a Sept. 7, 2015, Detroit Free Press article picked up the theme again with claims of budget cuts, saying that school districts faced cuts in “state aid.”

Similar false claims have been echoed continuously by politicians, progressive analysts and union administrators.

The organization Education Trust-Midwest implied as recently as December 20, 2018, that school funding has been cut, when it wrote the state has engaged in a “decade-long disinvestment in students, teachers and public schools.”

In the face of this one-sided onslaught, the public has largely bought into the myth. For example, a 2014 poll by Inside Michigan Politics/Lambert, Edwards & Associates/Denno Research stated that 53.8 percent of voters believed school funding had been cut by Gov. Snyder while 24 percent were undecided.

Evidence rebutting the claim is available from any number of official sources. The Senate Fiscal Agency has reported that K-12 school funding has increased every year in the eight years of Republican control of the state Legislature. The Michigan Department of Education publishes regularly updated tables that reveal fine-grained, per-district and statewide school funding details.

Other kinds of evidence reinforce the point that school funding has not declined.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, just 10 Michigan school districts are projected to have placed themselves in deficit by outspending their revenue, as of the end of the 2018 fiscal year, not including Detroit Public Schools Community District and Highland Park City Schools.

In 2013, then-state of Michigan Public Schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan told legislators that he expected there would soon be as many as 100 schools in deficit.

That didn’t happen. MDE spokesman Bill DiSessa attributed the turnaround in school finances to an improving state economy and early intervention by the State Treasury with school districts facing budgetary issues.

Still, Michigan teachers unions have continued with the drumbeat of school funding cuts, which serves their interest by creating a climate of crisis in the mind of the public

Mark Hackbarth, the president of the Midland City Education Association, recently said the state has not adequately funded schools, leading to budgetary problems. Yet, even at his own school district, Midland Public Schools, state funding has increased significantly.

“When the schools get an increase but they don’t get as much as they think they’re going to get, they call that a cut. That’s B.S.,” said then-Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, according to The Associated Press.