News Story

State Aid To School District Much More Than Newspaper Claims

Michigan school finance complicated, teachers union not a good source for info

A Detroit-area newspaper is claiming its local school district serving 3,200 plus-students is underfunded, but the evidence it cites dramatically underreports the amount of assistance the district receives.

The Hamtramck Review published a story about a local teachers union event dubbed a “walk-in,” held to protest the alleged lack of funding. The tactic, which some teachers used in May, involves school employees gathering outside before classes begin and then walking into the building while wearing red.

According to the article, Hamtramck Public Schools received $7,631 per student in the 2016-17 school year. 

But according to the Michigan Department of Education, Hamtramck schools actually received $11,266 per pupil for its general fund in 2016-17, the latest year data is available from the state. Local money was responsible for $1,156 per pupil in revenue, $8,633 per pupil came from state tax dollars and $1,475 came from federal funding. The general fund pays for operating expenses, such as teacher salaries.

The $7,631 per pupil cited by the Hamtramck newspaper included just one source of funding, called the state foundation allowance. It excluded tens of millions of dollars Hamtramck schools receive from other sources.

The state foundation allowance accounted for about 76 percent of the $29.5 million Hamtramck schools received from the state in 2016-17. The district also received money from federal and local taxpayers.

The Hamtramck Review quoted the president of the Hamtramck teachers union local saying that the district bears extra costs to educate “at-risk” students. But the story failed to mention that the school district received $1.7 million in 2016-17 from the state to help with those students – dollars that came in addition to the foundation allowance money.

Michelle Cook, the president of the teachers union local, is cited as a source for much of the financial data listed in the news story.

Cook is also an employee of the district, and despite her claims of underfunding, her own salary rose. It went from $58,690 in 2013-14 to $80,100 in 2016-17, according to compensation data provided by the state’s Office of Retirement Services.

The Hamtramck Review also wrote a June 1 editorial titled “Underfunding in education is something we all need to address.”

The editorial claimed, “Over the last few decades we have allowed decreased spending on education.”

“Hamtramck in particular has been hit hard. We are shorted about $1,000 per student in funding each year.”

The editorial cites no source for these figures, which are not supported by financial data available from the state of Michigan.

As it turns out, the district’s funding trajectory has been almost the exact opposite of what the newspaper claims.

In terms of money coming only from the state taxes, Hamtramck’s per-pupil funding increased from $7,212 in 2011-12 to $9,020 in 2017-18. When adjusted for inflation, Hamtramck is actually getting about $1,230 more per pupil today than six years ago.

When asked where he got the financial data for the story, The Hamtramck Review's editor Charles Sercombe cited the school foundation allowance dollar amount and said it would be backed up by the Michigan Department of Education.