News Story

Low-Income School Districts In Michigan Get More Money, Not Less

But public education and welfare establishments keep claiming otherwise

The Detroit Public Schools Community District received $14,754 per pupil for its general fund in the 2016-2017 school year. This is the account from which regular operating expenses are paid, including teacher salaries.

That is $4,038 more per pupil than received by the Okemos Public Schools, located in an affluent part of Ingham County.

Just 19.2 percent of Okemos students were considered economically disadvantaged, compared to 85.3 percent of children in the Detroit school district.

School districts in poorer Michigan communities like Detroit get extra money from the state and federal government for students considered to be “at risk,” meaning they live in low-income households.

Despite the existence of this extra stream of money, a recent report from the Michigan League for Public Policy pins a series of public education woes on a lack of funding for Michigan school districts in low-income communities.

Such critiques ignore data from the Michigan Department of Education that consistently shows public schools in low-income communities get more state dollars than those in affluent areas. For example, Flint Community Schools received in its general fund more than double the per-pupil funding of a neighboring school district in a more prosperous city.

The seven-page report from the MLPP states that schools have insufficient resources to help poor students, which has led to an achievement gap.

“Despite the well-established connection between the conditions of poverty and educational achievement, the number of children able to receive basic income support in Michigan has fallen sharply, and Michigan has not fully funded its At-Risk School Aid program, which supports children in high-poverty schools,” the report states.

This assertion ignores the state data, which are available in online databases maintained by the Michigan Department of Education.

The state spent $309.0 million on at-risk programs in the 2011-12 fiscal year. The amount increased to $499.0 million in 2018-19. If restated in current dollars, the amount for 2011-12 would be equivalent to $345.0 million today. That means Michigan taxpayers are providing 45 percent more for at-risk school grants than they did seven years ago.

The MLPP report stated, “Current state budgets and public policies don’t adequately address the costs associated with educating children in high-poverty schools in Michigan. For example, providing the same per-pupil funding to all schools across the state would increase equality in educational financing, but would not create equity by helping children overcome the accumulated obstacles that have resulted in an achievement gap. To achieve equity, state funding must fully recognize the higher costs of educating children in high-poverty schools, as well as address the barriers children of color encounter from the time of their birth.”

The concept of distributing more money to schools in poorer communities is uncontroversial, which is demonstrated by Department of Education reports showing that school districts in poorer communities are among the most well-funded in the state.

It’s not just state money either; school districts with lower income student bodies also get millions in federal at-risk grants.

For example, 93.3 percent of the students served by Flint Community Schools were classified as economically disadvantaged in 2017-18. At nearby Grand Blanc Community Schools, 34.3 percent of the students were economically disadvantaged. The difference has financial implications.

The Flint school district received $749 per pupil in "at-risk" dollars from the state while the one in Grand Blanc received $221 per pupil in 2017-18.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, Flint schools received $20,166 per pupil in its general fund, of which $3,394 per pupil was in federal money. Grand Blanc schools received $9,405 per pupil in its general fund, of which $327 per pupil was in federal money. The financial data is from 2016-17, the most recent year the MDE released.

Flint schools received for its general fund expenses more than double the per-pupil funding of its neighboring district just 9 miles down the road.

The Michigan League for Public Policy didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.