News Story

Schools Get Rich In Poor Neighborhoods

Whitmer’s Black Leadership Advisory Council repeats disinformation about funding

An official group known as the Black Leadership Advisory Council repeats, in its new policy recommendations, the popular but inaccurate claim that poor communities in Michigan have poorly funded school districts.

The recommendations were featured in a May 10 press release. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the Black Leadership Advisory Council by executive order in August 2020 as an advisory body within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

One of the council’s recommendations is to increase school funding.

Though BLAC hints that school districts with substantial numbers of Black students are more likely to be underfunded, the council uses vague terms.

“Districts are still dependent on their local property tax base to fund school facility construction and repair, replicating existing inequity,” the report says.

When looking at all sources of funding, poor communities have some of the best-funded school districts in Michigan. That is in part due to the huge advantage such districts receive in federal funding for students considered to be at-risk.

The poorest communities in Michigan have school districts whose total per-pupil funding is far above the state average in 2020-21.

Flint Community Schools ($30,761 per pupil), Benton Harbor Area Schools ($20,179 per pupil), the Pontiac City School District ($22,947 per pupil) and the Detroit Public Schools Community District ($19,509 per pupil) all are above the state average of $18,122 per pupil.

Many other urban school districts in this state are in a similar situation.

That advantage also played out in federal funding for COVID-19 recovery. For example, in terms of per-pupil COVID relief funding, Flint ($49,996), Benton Harbor ($29,356), Detroit ($26,407) and Pontiac ($17,227) all received far more money than affluent communities such as Grosse Pointe ($1,676), West Bloomfield ($1,646) and Troy ($1,405).

BLAC’s recommendations cite a 2019 Michigan State University report on school funding written by David Arsen, a professor of education policy. Arsen has a history of making questionable claims about school funding. In 2013, Arsen excluded about $2 billion in state revenue and all federal tax dollars that go to education from an analysis he released in an open letter to then-Gov. Rick Snyder.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy disputed Arsen’s 2019 report due to the time period he chose to review — 2003 to 2015. The state went through two recessions during that period. The Mackinac Center also stated that the inflation calculation Arsen used was not appropriate for schools. The method, it said, exaggerated the trends so the report could claim that Michigan had the lowest school funding growth in the U.S. from 1995 to 2015. Had the report used the far more commonly cited Consumer Price Index, Michigan would have been in the middle of the pack in school funding.

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.