News Story

Detroit schools spend $196M of COVID cash on teachers, $34M on student mental health

Detroit superintendent Vitti speaks on district’s use of $1.2B in COVID stimulus funds

The Detroit Public Schools Community District received $1.2 billion from the federal treasury under the American Rescue Plan Act. The district plans to spend roughly $196 million of that on employees, according to its website. The district is dedicating another $34 million, or 2% of the $1.2 billion, to meet social and emotional needs of students still harmed by long-term shuttering of school doors.

A University of Michigan study concluded that Detroit’s students are facing an epidemic of poor mental health. A large share of district students show substantial symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Many, the study says, have experienced traumatic events.

Teachers and staff want more professional development in how to help with social emotional learning, anxiety and depression, according to the study. Staffers report either that their school does not have a system for managing mental mental health or that they are unaware of one. Administrators, however say there is a system in place to identify students who need mental health services.

Detroit schools and University of Michigan agree there is a major mental health crisis. The Detroit teachers union fought against opening schools during the pandemic, and district schools were among the last in the state to open.

“We could have spent more in the area of social-emotional support for students but this would have meant hiring new full-time who would have been laid off after COVID Relief Funding ended,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told Michigan Capitol Confidential. 

On its website, the district says it is using $169 million of the temporary funds to hire teaching and academic staff and provide one-time pay increases, as well as hazard pay. It will also use the money on certification programs for teachers professional development and academic resources.

Vitti said the district provides “the opportunity to give direct mental health support to all students at all of our schools.”

He said the initiative will continue next year with an already-adopted budget that reflects the end of COVID-related aid.

“The district is not doing enough to use the money it spends to benefit students,” said Molly Macek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “As long as that happens, its longstanding record of poor academic achievement is unlikely to improve.”

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.