News Story

Teachers Union Here Eager To Align With Strikes; Higher Funding Makes It Tough

Watch for advocates cherry-picking benchmarks to paint misleading funding picture

Michigan’s largest teachers union is calling for statewide “walk-ins” on May 9, with employees gathering outside before the school day begins and entering school buildings together in a show of unity around union claims of school underfunding.

The Michigan Education Association has tried for weeks to associate itself in some way with recent teacher strikes in Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

The slogan the MEA is promoting with the demonstrations is “Value Students. Respect Educators. Fund Our Schools.”

Advocates for higher public education spending often use 2009 — a year that saw spending spike due to a one-time event — as the benchmark when talking about school funding.

That’s what Donald Sovey did in an article he wrote for Bridge magazine earlier this year. Sovey, a former associate superintendent at Charlotte Public Schools for 34 years, now runs a financial consulting firm that does work for school districts.

In that article, Sovey noted that current funding for Michigan schools is below 2009 levels when adjusted for inflation.

But in 2009 the state of Michigan's public schools received $2.2 billion dollar in federal funds that included money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – better known as President Obama’s stimulus program.

After selecting 2009 as their benchmark, spending advocates seldom acknowledge is that federal funding for Michigan schools dropped off significantly after the stimulus ran its course. For example, Michigan schools will get $1.7 billion in federal funds in the current fiscal year, $500 million less than nine years ago. In contrast, state funding has increased every year in each of the past seven budgets.

State funding for public schools (not including federal dollars) was $10.7 billion in 2009-2010, and was $10.80 billion in 2010-11, which was the last budget of then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm. It is now $12.86 billion in the 2017-18 fiscal year. Using inflation-adjusted figures, state spending was the equivalent of $11.87 billion in 2010-11, meaning real state spending on schools has increased by $1 billion since then.

School finances appear to have benefited from that $1 billion boost. A March report from the Michigan Department of Education projects that statewide, just 12 public school will have spent more than they took in during the current school district, meaning they have to borrow and start next year with a deficit.

To put that number in perspective, 55 districts found themselves in this position in 2013. Michigan’s state superintendent at the time told legislators he thought there would be more than 100 school districts in deficit “before long.”