Institutionalized Obfuscation By School Spending Advocates

Ignoring 29% of Detroit school funding lets this official claim institutional racism

Shaun Black, an assistant superintendent at the Detroit Public Schools Community District, was paid $130,000 in 2020.

In an op-ed published by Bridge Michigan, Black echoed a theme common among people advocating for higher spending on public schools: The current funding pattern is inequitable because it benefits affluent suburbs.

Black takes this step further by claiming the state's school funding system is an example of institutional racism.

“Inequitable funding of the K-12 system by the Michigan Legislature underscores a significant policy failure, and it also symbolizes a legacy of elitism and institutional racism in Michigan,” Black wrote. “This policy failure is equivalent to educational ‘redlining’ as the state has decided which school districts will receive additional per-pupil funding and which ones will not.”

Black, and others who make similar claims, cites data showing Detroit’s per-pupil state allocation was $8,142, while the Grosse Pointe district received $10,224 in state funding during the 2019-2020 school year.

These numbers refer to what is known as the per-pupil “foundation allowance,” which is based on a complicated formula. The allowance includes some but not all local and state school tax revenue, and it does not include federal funding.

When all revenue and funding sources (local, state and federal) are considered, the Detroit Public Schools Community District received $17,379 per pupil, and Grosse Pointe Public Schools received $15,707 per pupil. The statewide average is $16,323. School districts with a high percentage of students from low-income households receive far more federal dollars than those without. Detroit schools received $5,036 in federal funding for each student, compared to $171 per pupil for Grosse Pointe.

This variation in federal funding greatly favors school districts that serve more students from poor families. In Detroit’s public school district, 83% of the students are designated as “economically disadvantaged,” which means receive some type of government subsidy. For Grosse Pointe, 19% of its students are in this category

It’s not surprising, then, that advocates who call for more taxpayer funding for public schools don’t include federal dollars when they describe the current funding system.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.