Just the Facts about School Funding

Update: 2013-14 funding realities http://rebel6.blogspot.com/2013/10/just-cold-hard-reality-about-school.html

Governor Rick Snyder has been Tweeting this week about what he perceives are the facts regarding school funding.

Rick Snyder @onetoughnerd “Each and every year we’ve increased funding for K-12 #education.” Get the facts: ow.ly/mc4nQ

From past experience, the Governor does not shy away from misusing or misrepresenting the facts to support his intended outcome. He began doing this early in his term while claiming Michigan’s college-readiness rate for graduating high school students was a paltry 17%.

Michigan’s college-readiness rate: Is Gov. Snyder correct that only 17 percent of students are prepared for higher education?

Of course, this is nonsense since he bases his claim on two factors, neither of which is evidence of a low college-readiness rate:

  1. The 17 percent represents high school juniors who achieve a specific score on all four tests as set by the folks who provide the ACT program. However, evidence concludes that most students who go on to college do not achieve those scores in all four subjects. They might, for example, achieve a college-readiness score in math and science, but not English or reading. There is no solid causal data that concludes these students are any less successful than the small percentage who score above college-ready on all four.
  2. Most high school juniors in the middle of their 11th grade year are not considered college-ready since they still have approximately a year-and-a-half of high school courses to complete. The ACT was designed for high school seniors and graduates but Michigan is one of only a handful of states that administers it to all 11th graders regardless if they have plans to attend college or not.

Anyway, the point of this is to illustrate how Governor Snyder slants any available evidence to support his position, and few if any in the media ever call him out on it.

Getting back to my original issue regarding school funding. Below are two charts that factually illustrate our district’s funding from state and local sources since Michigan took over control of school funding following passage of Proposal A. The first chart provides the history of the foundation allowance, which as the name implies is the foundation of our total annual revenue.


The blue bars on the chart indicate per-student revenue in real dollars (unadjusted for inflation) for each school year including the upcoming year. The red bars use federal government inflation data to adjust the foundation allowance in constant 2013 dollars. This allows for a real comparison of revenue from year-to-year since we all know costs go up every year. It’s simply a fact of life.

As you can plainly see, the value of our per-student foundation allowance inched up until 2002-03 but has generally been on a downhill slide since. Most recently, under Governor Snyder’s watch, the foundation allowance has plummeted by as much as $470 per student. Given the size of our district (about 1,800 students), that equates to $846,000 less each year in real dollars. When adjusted for inflation, the drop equated to $1.3 million in revenue from 2010-11 to 2011-12 and continued at $1.5 million less in 2012-13 than two year prior. Even with the modest increase this coming fall ($60 per student, part of which will be taken back by the state to pay for the problems it created with the teacher retirement system), we will still be operating with the equivalent of $1.65 million less in revenue when adjusted for inflation.

Because the state does provide a minimal amount of additional aid in categorical grants (i.e., 31A for at-risk students as well as Governor Snyder’s “carrot-based-funding” for “best practices” and achievement scores), it’s only fair to look beyond the foundation allowance at total state and local revenue. The following chart illustrates on a per-student basis, total revenues each year since 1997-97.


Because the foundation allowance makes up most of this revenue, the trend is very similar. Despite Governor Snyder’s claims that he is providing more funding for schools each year, our district revenue (blue bars) has declined in real dollars each of the last three years, and was lower this year than it was going back to 2005-06. And if you again adjust the per-student revenue figures for inflation (red bars), our per-student revenue is at it’s lowest point in sixteen years!

Now folks in Lansing will be quick to throw numbers back at me that account for what they call total revenue, which includes a variety of federal grants for targeted compensatory and school improvement use. There are at least three problems when talking about this small percentage of our total revenue that comes from Washington, DC:

  1. It can only be used for targeted purposes such as addressing severe learning needs based on poverty, English language learners, special education or some professional development. It cannot be used to provide the core academic program or any programs such as the arts, music, physical education, technology, computer science, etc. These main educational programs can only be funded by a declining revenue stream from Lansing through the school aid fund.
  2. A number of grants such as the School Improvement Grant (SIG) are limited in length of time and then the district is expected to sustain the programs and interventions beyond the expiration date. Interestingly, our high school SIG grant, which concludes this September, has demonstrated beyond any doubt what a school can do when it is properly funded. If anything, it should be teaching our leaders in Lansing that equitable funding for urban, poor, high-ELL schools is a step in the right direction for education reform.
  3. Education is not a federal responsibility, it belongs to the states and local communities. In Michigan, that is spelled out in our state constitution. Therefore, Michigan has primary responsibility to provide adequate and equitable resources to educate all of its children regardless of their background, native language, learning disability, etc. The 1965 act that created the federal Title programs was always intended to be simply supplemental to address the most severe problems.

So there’s the facts, Governor Snyder. Once again, we welcome the opportunity to host a visit by you to our schools this fall so we can show you first hand that even in these austere times and constant attacks on public education, we’re still dedicated to doing the best job possible in educating our kids. Of course with the continuing declining revenues, we’ll be doing it with far fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and less programs.


About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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