News Story

Misleading Pictures Of Detroit School Funding

It’s not hard to get things wrong when big revenue sources are left out

The Detroit Free Press editorial board recently published an op-ed claiming that disparate state funding levels for Detroit’s public school district compared to districts serving mostly white suburbs is an example of systemic racism.

It repeated an oft-heard complaint: Detroit’s school district gets less money than districts serving wealthier and mostly white suburbs. The editorial quotes the superintendent of the Detroit district, Nikolai Vitti, to make the point.

Vitti said, “It feels as if we believe certain children mean more, and are more valuable than other children. Very specifically, white children in certain neighborhoods, and certain districts, are valued more than black children. That’s not hyperbole, it’s how the state allows the school funding formula to exist.”

Vitti is referring to one source of district funding, the state foundation allowance, which sends $7,906 per pupil to his district. This money is just one revenue stream in a blend of local, state and federal dollars. When all these funding sources are considered, Detroit’s per pupil operations funding is among the state’s highest.

Overall, the Detroit Public Schools Community District received $14,744 per pupil in local, state and federal funding in 2018-19, the latest year data is available. The state average was $10,487.

The editorial board added to its incomplete picture by saying that for many people, their belief that black lives matter is challenged if “giving more to kids in Detroit means less for kids in that affluent suburb.”

Comparisons with some districts in Southeast Michigan that serve wealthier populations undermine claims of income-based funding disparity, however. While the Detroit district received $14,744 per pupil from all sources in 2018-19, the district in the affluent Grosse Pointe communities received $13,825 per pupil, and Troy schools received $11,757 per pupil. A big part of the difference is due to supplemental federal funding for districts with more at-risk students, meaning children from low-income households. The figures come from a Michigan Department of Education publication.

More recently, the same considerations have led to the Detroit school district getting the largest share of federal COVID-19 relief funding allocated for Michigan schools. The district will get $85.1 million of this money, which is 24% of the $350.8 million granted for all of Michigan’s K-12 school districts.