News Story

At-Risk Funding Favors Poorer Communities

Pols make equity claims that are contradicted by the numbers

School districts in low-income communities get substantially more funding for at-risk students than districts in wealthier communities, but Michigan officials suggest the opposite is true.

State Superintendent Michael Rice took the Michigan Senate to task recently over what he said was underfunding of children with greater needs.

“It is lamentable,” Rice wrote in an April 22 statement, “that there’s no attempt to address the underfunding of groups of children that have greater needs, and therefore greater costs associated with their education, including but not limited to economically disadvantaged children, students with disabilities, career and technical education students, and English language learners.”

Rep. Shri Thanedar, D-Detroit, echoed the sentiment in a Tweet on May 6. In it, he said that a ZIP code should never be a factor in the quality of education a child receives. He called for more money to address Detroit students’ literacy issues.

While there is a disparity in school funding, it favors schools in poorer ZIP codes. Districts with a greater number of low-income students receive more in “at-risk” simply because they have more of those students, but they also get more on a per-student basis. The amount a district receives for each at-risk student can vary dramatically, according to The Detroit Public Schools Community District receives $787 per at-risk student. That’s almost three times the $276 that the Grosse Pointe Public School System, in a wealthy suburb of Detroit, receives for for each at-risk student.

Flint Community Schools receives $770 per at-risk pupil, while the Rochester Community School District is gets slightly less, at $729 per student. Although “at-risk” in this context generally refers to students who are at risk of academic failure, household income is usually the primary and sometimes the sole factor for determining this status.

It is not just at-risk students who attract more money to districts in low-income areas. The Detroit district received $18,469 per pupil for each student’s education in the 2020-21 school year. Grosse Pointe receive $14,563 for each student. The Flint district has one of the highest per-pupil funding allowances in the state at $26,121. Rochester schools receive $12,301 for each student.

Thanedar and Michigan Department of Education did not respond to emails seeking comment.

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.