Analysis

Michigan Schools And Families Were Hurt By 800,000 Lost Jobs

Public school establishment complaining about cuts that happened 10 years ago

A New York-based nonprofit news site that reports on education recently joined the many media outlets promoting a narrative that Michigan underfunds its public schools, while not mentioning that school funding here has risen faster than inflation for eight years. The site, called The 74, produced a nearly 2,500-word article in which it made the underfunded schools claim.

In this article, Michigan Capitol Confidential will provide the final installment of an analysis of The 74’s account of Michigan schools.

The 74 reported a poll indicating that 70 percent of 601 likely 2018 general election voters believe that schools are underfunded. The nonprofit did not say that the poll was paid for by the coalition School Finance Research Collaborative, which is largely comprised of interests aligned with the unionized public school establishment, or officials employed within that system.

The polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted the poll. Respondents were read questions that characterized Michigan school funding as “inadequate.” Additionally, they were told that business leaders and education experts had commissioned a study recommending a $1,500 per-pupil increase in school funding.

The 74 also reported that Michigan “instituted some of the steepest cuts in the nation after the Great Recession.” The Great Recession lasted from December 2007 to June 2009.

Michigan public school funding reached $11.6 billion in 2006-07, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency. Twelve years later (2018-19), K-12 funding is $13.0 billion. When adjusted for inflation, that appears to represent a funding decline of around $1.4 billion.

However, Michigan public schools are educating 173,000 fewer students than they were 12 years ago (from 1.693 million students in 2006-07 to 1.520 million students this year).

In terms of per-pupil spending, state support for schools (not counting additional federal dollars) was $7,700 in 2006-07. This rose to $8,579 in 2018-19. After adjusting for inflation, that represents the equivalent of a $733 decline.

Starting dates are important in making such comparisons. In 2006-07, overall school spending had been rising, even as the state economy was slammed by what was widely called a “single-state recession,” losing 148,000 jobs over the previous four years even while the nation was gaining jobs.

This was followed by the Great Recession of 2008-09, a nationwide event which drove the state’s economy, employment and property values into a tailspin. By 2009, one out of every six jobs that existed in Michigan in 2000 was gone – a loss of 805,900 jobs. School spending by the state also took a hit, although the magnitude of the decline was masked by a temporary surge of federal spending known as the Obama stimulus.

Michigan state spending on public schools has risen in each of the past eight years, a fact that has been consistently ignored or denied by opponents of the outgoing Republican governor, who has presided over those increases. But even so, the state is still playing catch-up with the extreme budget pressures of nearly 10 years ago. To ignore this context and the burdens suffered by Michigan families during those dark years is to paint an incomplete picture.

The 74 responded to an email sent by Michigan Capitol Confidential asking about issues with its story. The nonprofit responded to one issue but did not address the article’s claim about school funding.