How does Michigan rank on school spending?

Michigan will spend about $13 billion on K-12 education this year – the single largest use of state revenue.

And how those sums will get spent next year and beyond will consume a considerable amount of attention at the Capitol, where views on running schools can be deeply divided.

In April 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder stated, "Michigan’s education system is not giving our taxpayers, our teachers, or our students the return on investment we deserve."

In concert with Republican majorities in the Legislature, Snyder has pursued initiatives to tie state aid to performance, be it academic results for students or even modifications in how local school districts provide benefits to teachers and support staff.

In addition, after years of regular increases, the state’s minimum per-pupil grant – the money schools rely on for standard operations – fell. At $6,966, it is $142 less than for 2006-07. Adjusted for inflation, the per-pupil minimum is the lowest it has been since 1998.

That trend, say some in the field, is hurting Michigan’s ability to compete.

In the past decade, Michigan moved from slightly above average on many national tests to below average. For example, Michigan is 35th in fourth grade math proficiency and 31st in eighth grade reading.

"Just spending more money per se doesn't have a strong effect. You have to spend it on the right things," said Robert Floden, associate dean for research in Michigan State University's College of Education. "But when you get too low amounts of spending on education, there is no way to spend it so well that you do better than you would with at least a moderate amount of money."

While participants in the Center for Michigan’s year-long townhall series on K-12 education were not asked if they wanted to spend more on education, large majorities did say they wanted better teachers and better results – and that such gains likely would require more dollars.

How Michigan ranks

Since fiscal 2001, the state’s School Aid Fund has oscillated from a low of $10.89 billion in fiscal 2001 to a high of $13.01 billion in fiscal 2007. When adjusted for inflation, had Michigan maintained 2007 spending levels, this year’s K-12 budget would be $14.41 billion, instead of the actual $12.94 billion. Such calculations are at the heart of political debates that can seem nonsensical to the average citizen – how can a larger overall amount be considered a “cut”?

A U.S. Census Bureau report using 2010 figures had Michigan rated No. 9 nationally for school revenue from all sources (federal, state and local). In 2010, Michigan was spending $10,644 on a per-pupil basis, from all sources, -- $29 above the national average and ranking the state 23rd overall. Among Great Lakes states, Michigan’s rate was second-lowest to Indiana ($9,611).

Between 1992 and 2010 the average per-pupil amount nationally doubled from $5,000 to more than $10,000.

Education spending based on personal income in the state placed Michigan No. 13, the Census Bureau reported.

Earlier this month, the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference projected that the School Aid Fund would grow about 3 percent – or about $300 million per year -- for fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015. At the same time, the state expects the number of schoolchildren will continue its recent decline.

David Arsen, professor of educational administration at MSU, said the state's first funding priority should be for an inflation adjustment to the per-pupil grant, something that hasn't happened in several years. He said the cuts over the past several years have reduced the quality of education that Michigan students receive.

His second priority would be bolstering early childhood education – a position already garnering considerable support in the Legislature and the administration for the coming year.

Beyond that, he said, the state should take a comprehensive, long-range look at how it funds education. He says Michigan should devote a portion of last year's surplus to support the work of a broad-based task force evaluating the state's long-term public education funding needs — from preschool through higher education. Massachusetts undertook a similar process several years ago.

The task force would evaluate the structure of revenue sources, determine adequate funding levels and design a system for distributing revenue that is sufficient, equitable and stable. It would also tackle one of the key problems untouched by Proposal A of 1994: the funding for school buildings.

"We've never done that here in Michigan," he said.

“Dumping more money in the system is not a solution,” countered Eileen Weiser, a member of the State Board of Education. She compared investing more in Michigan’s current public education system to bigger and bigger car repairs for an old jalopy. “At some point, you have to make a decision to buy a new car,” Weiser said.

“Michigan has in various times been in the top 10 in funding schools but in the bottom half of student achievement,” Weiser said. “If there were a relationship between money and competence, it would show up in results.”

Chris Andrews is senior editor at Public Policy Associates, Inc. In addition to working as a freelance writer and editor, he teaches journalism at Michigan State University. Andrews was an editor at the Lansing State Journal and a reporter at the Rochester, N.Y., Times-Union.

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Thu, 01/24/2013 - 9:00am
If the consideration of money were so relevant to the performance levels of public schools, as a whole, it would be advantageous for the state to not make it so difficult for parents to send their children to a private schools. this would give the state more money to spend on the students that are left, so, by the reasoning of the MEA and it's ilk, they should be better educated. I doubt it, but I think that is consistent with the contentions of those that argue for more money for the K-12 system.
Thu, 01/24/2013 - 9:06am
“If there were a relationship between money and competence, it would show up in results”, said Eileen Weiser, a member of the State Board of Education. Then, I propose that next year Ms. Weiser should propose switching the funding for say ten or twenty of the highest funded districts, say Bloomfield Hills at about $12,000 per student with ten or twenty of the lowest funded districts, say Pellston at about $7,000 per student. If as Ms. Weiser contends there is no relationship between money and competence there is no reason to resist this. There is a relationship between money and quality in everything!!!!!!
Thu, 01/24/2013 - 9:20am
Michigan has 2 problems. First and foremost is the MEA. Second is the ratio of administrative positions to classroom teachers.
Thu, 01/24/2013 - 5:53pm
The inability to see that a student's chances to get a good education is multi-pronged and multi-layered is unfair and extremely shortsighted. Legislators have vilified teachers completely in recent years, and it's not right. They have focused solely on school failures and blatantly ignored the thousands and thousands of school successes that happen every day in public schools. Their purpose? To fulfill their own objectives, of privatized schooling for profit. To continue to act as if teachers, alone, are to blame for failing students is insane! Everyday, across the state, children come to school with no breakfast or lunch supplied, little sleep, no reading glasses or coats. They come without support at home to get homework done, or the counseling they need, and are unsure of who's house they'll sleep in that night. Teachers feed, cloth, get them dr appts and glasses (often with their own money and resources) if needed, stay to lend after hours tutoring support, mentoring, parent support, and so much more, and yet they are told they're to blame. Get real people. Now Snyder and the Republicans have cut teacher pay drastically, incorporated a punitive evaluation system, eliminated their seniority, demanded even more continuing education, at the teacher's own expense and slammed them in the press. They are DESTROYING our public education system and trying to pin the blame on the teachers. It's wrong! Time to look at what's really happening.
David Johnson
Sun, 01/27/2013 - 12:04pm
Beth, Why didn't you buy into Rich's well-developed/documented assignment for blame -- the M.E.A.? I guess he doesn't see that, as an extension of the teachers, they have been endlessly vilified, as well (having virtually NO political influence with the legislature/governor in providing sound funding for PUBLIC education). As with State Board member Eileen Weiser's comments (the irrelevant analogy to car repair vs. buying a new one and the UN-substantiated spending and student performance relationship claim "in various times"), such viewpoints do NOTHING to advance a deliberative discussion of a crucial, complex and MULTI-faceted public policy issue in our state!
Tue, 10/28/2014 - 7:49pm
Thank you Beth for your words! As a teacher I have felt attacked by our politicians. They lower respect of teachers at e very turn. They need to have their pay tied to success or failure based on things out of their control. I have supplied, glasses, clothes, food and school supplies to my students. I have been there for students that have been bounced from home to home and you are their only constant in their life. I have sat side by side and worked with children to get their work done because dad was not in the picture and mom was coming home drunk and making a scene each night so she did not get any sleep. I have called parents because of students who came an hour or two late day in and day out, only to be told by the mom that she was not a morning person. Technology is big in the world and it takes money to buy the equipment and train teachers. It takes money to have smaller classes so that there is time to work with each child. I have been in a school that has an average of 38 to 46 students in a class. Many teachers have left the teaching force because they can not afford to raise their family on the income. All my children are in the working force now make a minimum of 1/3 more than me and one is more than double my income. All of them have been in the work force only 5-10 years, their health care is much better than mine too. Summers off? I have to take classes in the summer, that I pay for just to stay certified. I have been doing this for over 20 years! Other than the medical field where things constantly change no one else has to continue going to school like teachers. I had given up hope that there were any people out there that understood what teachers deal with. Thank you!
Connie Glave
Sat, 01/26/2013 - 6:36pm
The discussion has to include that low income children start out at a disadvantage, they usually live in areas with lower tax bases, so the schools lack the needed funding, the parents are more likely to have to work multiple part time jobs just to get by, so it is harder to be as committed to their child's education.
Sat, 01/26/2013 - 7:55pm
My mom is a school teacher, so I hear a lot about these issues. The kids are all she will miss when she retires; the rest of being a teacher has been a nightmare. I agree with what Beth posted. I can't understand why people fail to see that education is just about everything. Health is valuable, but there is no darkness like ignorance. I'm a nurse in a maximum security prison. I read health care requests from inmates daily and it is tragic. Even when I can read their handwriting, their spelling and grammar are awful. Their knowledge about their own bodies, nutrition and basic hygiene are next to non-existant. The gravity of their crimes is as lost on them as the tragedy of what they have done to their lives. Very few of the inmates here finished high school, or even managed a GED. Most have never held a legitamate job. Poverty, poor education, and parental neglect are the common ground they share. Exceptions exist, but are rare.
Michael Maranda
Wed, 04/17/2013 - 3:16pm
“Dumping more money in the system is not a solution,” countered Eileen Weiser, a member of the State Board of Education. She compared investing more in Michigan’s current public education system to bigger and bigger car repairs for an old jalopy. “At some point, you have to make a decision to buy a new car,” Weiser said. Shall we invest our money in kids in another state, or dump the public education model entirely? The analogy is flawed, and as a member of the Board of Ed this is an irresponsible manner of addressing the issue.