Analysis

One Source Of School Finance Confusion: ‘Equity In School Funding’

Second in a series of how claims about public school revenue claims are often misleading

The term “equitable funding” often comes up when school spending interests talk about lower-income communities and the school districts that serve them.

For example, the nonprofit news site Chalkbeat published an article in December about a public meeting, framing it as a discussion about equitable school funding. The article quoted Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

“‘How are we not talking about a legislative advocacy for children to have equal funding?’ Vitti asked, producing a round of applause from the audience. ‘I just don’t understand that.’”

The Chalkbeat article also implied that school districts with poorer students get less money.

“Currently, a wide gap exists between the lowest-funded districts and the highest, and there have been increased calls to allocate more money for students with bigger needs,” the article read.

But school funding data from the Michigan Department of Education tells a very different story than the one suggested by Chalkbeat.

Here are the total per-pupil funding amounts (from local, state and federal sources) received by districts in nonaffluent cities. The figures are for the 2016-17 fiscal year and include all revenue that flows into the districts’ general funds, from which regular operations expenses are paid, including payroll:

Flint ($20,166 per pupil), Pontiac ($15,402), Detroit ($14,754), Benton Harbor ($14,292), Beecher ($14,024), Lansing ($13,371) and Battle Creek ($11,974). Each of these districts received far more than the state per-pupil average of $9,910.

School districts in two neighboring cities in Southwest Michigan, Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, are often used as examples of a poor and rich district, respectively. Yet according to the Michigan Department of Education, Benton Harbor Area Schools received $5,303 more per pupil in 2016-17 than St. Joseph Public Schools did.

This is the second part of a three-part series on how key public school finance issues are often distorted or falsely reported by Michigan public school administrators and union officials. The first article covered the sources of school revenue.