Michigan cut school funding and school performance plummeted. Coincidence?

Michigan was dead last in change in school spending since 1995, according to a new Michigan State University report (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Michigan ranks dead last in the nation in school funding growth in the quarter century since Michigan radically changed how it funded public education system, according to a new Michigan State University study.

School funding has dropped 18 percent since 1995 when spending is adjusted for inflation, according to the report. Only one other state, West Virginia, had a decrease in inflation-adjusted spending in that time.

Michigan ranked 48th in per-pupil spending growth over the same period.

“I was shocked when I saw this,” said David Arsen, MSU professor of education policy and lead author of the study.

“Since proposal A (in 1994), Michigan citizens gave most control over school funding to the state,” Arsen said. “Since 2002, the funding has dramatically failed to keep pace with inflation.

David Arsen, MSU professor of education policy, was lead author of a study tracking spending on education in Michigan compared to spending in other states

“Was that intended? I can’t put myself in the heads of policymakers. But we can know with certainty, that funding is lower.”

From 2003 to 2015, Michigan also ranked 50th in growth in school performance on the National Assessment of Educational Performance, often called “the nation’s report card, according to the study. (Older school performance figures are not available because Michigan didn’t participate in the NAEP until 2003.)

One example: Michigan’s white fourth-graders ranked 14th in the nation in reading in 2003 compared to their demographic peers; by 2017, they were 46th.

Related content: On nation’s report card, Michigan students remain in back of class

“Some people say, ‘money doesn’t matter’” in schools, Arsen said. “That’s so at odds with current research. We know we are performing very poorly. We know funding is down. The connection is too strong.”

The report calls for an increase in school funding of $3.6 billion a year, an almost 20 percent increase over the $18.4 billion spent now, with more dollars going toward schools with large populations of low-income and special education children and English language learners.

The $3.6 billion figure sounds eye-popping, Arsen admits, but he points out that Michigan was spending that much more (when adjusted for inflation) on education as recently as 2007.

That level of funding isn’t available for schools today because of tax cuts, Arsen said.

“It’s clear we are at the bottom financially,” said state Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills. “We can’t begin to take the state forward if we don’t educate our kids.

“We need more money – period,” Bayer said. “We have to start looking at how to get more money and not just move it around inn our tiny pie.”

Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, who chairs the Senate K-12 appropriations subcommittee, was not immediately available for comment. Republicans have often made the case, however, that some states with lower per-pupil funding have higher academic performance than Michigan, such as Florida. In other words, that funding increases alone do not guarantee success.

While that may be true, more money does have value, particularly for students facing the stiffest hurdles, one expert says.

“While funding alone cannot fix Michigan’s troubled education system, there is no question that adequate and equitable funding is particularly important for raising the teaching and learning levels of Michigan's vulnerable students,” said Amber Arellano, director of Education Trust-Midwest, a Michigan-based advocacy group. “Indeed, research supports how critical well-invested, adequate and effectively spent funding is for low-income students.

“Michigan ranks among the bottom five states for funding equity between districts serving the highest  percentages of low-income students and districts serving the fewest,” Arellano said. “In fact, Michigan is one of only sixteen states that provides less funding to its highest poverty districts than to its lowest poverty districts, according to a recent national report.

Said Arsen, the MSU author: “The state has focused on accountability and (school) choice policies, with the idea that we could leave funding aside, and we’ve been kidding ourselves. Honestly, when you have policymakers obsessed with grading schools, but all the schools are sinking compared to other states, we should be grading the policy. And we’re not doing too well.”

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Comments

Mary Fox
Wed, 01/23/2019 - 5:24pm

Gee, you think keeping and retaining quality and adequate staff, paying for needed equipment, etc. has gone down 18 percent over the years? Republican legislatures and governors have systematically stripped teaching of any real incentive and have done EVERYTHING that drives people out of teaching and have not listened to professionals in teaching and the result is this. QUIT the over testing, stop trying to make kids into widgets and start addressing THEIR needs. QUIT trying to make it into a business model. KIDS DO NOT LEARN BY FORMULAS. TEACHING REQUIRES SMART PEOPLE WHO HAVE ADEQUATE TIME AND RESOURCES TO DO THE JOB. THEY NEED TO BE PAID LIKE PROFESSIONALS AND STOP PUNISHING THEM FOR HAVING A UNION.

Don
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 8:52am

republicans know that educated people will never vote for them>>> Also they illegally gave money to privet schools!!!!

Anonymous
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 9:18am

Am I to assume that you did not finish school? What is a privet school? Don't throw stones when you live in a tinfoil hut.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 01/23/2019 - 6:05pm

Still waiting for the report on why the lower funded school districts in Northern Macomb County beat the stuffing out of the disproportionally higher funded DPS/DPSCD academically speaking.

https://www.mischooldata.org/ParentDashboard/ParentDashboardSchools.aspx...

https://www.mischooldata.org/ParentDashboard/ParentDashboardSchools.aspx...

https://www.mackinac.org/depts/epi/fiscal.aspx

That total revenue from ALL sources is really troublesome.

The authors of this flawed MSU report obviously need to rework their methodology.

Jerry
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 9:48am

Kevin, you shouldn't use facts and common sense. The Public School Industry doesn't like it. I've been here since 1965 and have never heard anything other than "outcomes will be better if we just get more money." It never ends no matter what Party is in office. You have to really dig and spend time at the Michigan Department of Public Education website to find the data they try to hide. Here's another source at MDE that refutes the MSU "study" : https://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,4615,7-140-6605_6539-21514--,00.html
When all sources of money are included Detroit public schools get nearly $14,000 per student and still fail the children miserably. I have many teachers in my family and they know the real story. One point Mary (above here) is correct on. Let the teachers teach. I say, broom all the useless , political middle management at public schools and double real classroom teachers salaries.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 9:48pm

Thank you for the link, Jerry.

Mark
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 6:29am

Money is the cure all, every district and people that populate the each district is different. Let's focus on areas like Detroit....Money will not cure the Culture of ~95% of all school children come from Generational Comfortable Poverty headed by Single Mothers. I am in favor of cutting in Half the Money Taxpayers provide to Public Universities particularly the well-endowed ones and move that money to Elementary School Reading Programs. If the Kid can read, he has options in life. There is no reason why Public Universities like MSU, UM, Oakland and UMDearborn need to keep building new buildings or regularly re-modeling existing buildings.

Matt
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 8:25am

This would be much more interesting and relevant if you broke this out how educational funds were spent in 2003 and how they are spent in 2015, Teaching, adim, support staff, athletics, special ed. etc. Just saying funding is down doesn't say much.

Don
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 8:51am

Michigan did not cut funding to the Public schools the republicans did and gave money to the privet schools illegally!!! Republicans know that educated people WILL NOT vote for them!!!

Anonymous
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 9:21am

Again, not privet....private, is that what you mean? Second, it was PUBLIC Charter schools. Maybe start actually researching legitimate sources instead of going off of what you were told by someone, or found on Liberalsonly.com

Matt
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 10:52am

This is Ebonics, get with it. Besides listening to Bridge commenters , we need to do away with testing - I'd assume the weekly spelling quiz as well?!

Bill
Sun, 01/27/2019 - 10:25am

Eighty percent of charter schools in Michigan are operated for profit, with little state oversight. This means that someone can use taxpayer dollars to run a school and personally profit from it. Teacher pay in charter schools is notoriously low - an 18 year veteran in our local charter makes only about $40,000 annually, which is about half what she would be making in the public schools. Charters do not need to provide services to students with special needs, which is expensive. Also, I had students who came from the charter to the public schools. Most of them were performing below the level of their peers in the public school.

Bill
Sun, 01/27/2019 - 10:25am

Eighty percent of charter schools in Michigan are operated for profit, with little state oversight. This means that someone can use taxpayer dollars to run a school and personally profit from it. Teacher pay in charter schools is notoriously low - an 18 year veteran in our local charter makes only about $40,000 annually, which is about half what she would be making in the public schools. Charters do not need to provide services to students with special needs, which is expensive. Also, I had students who came from the charter to the public schools. Most of them were performing below the level of their peers in the public school.

John Darling
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 10:47am

One of the consequences of these tighter budgets has been a loss of classroom / paid aides. This means less help for the neediest students, and a resulting burden on classroom teachers. This is not well documented in the data gathered by educational researchers.

Most elementary schools have dropped their librarians and have minimal assistance from social workers and school psychologists. Only mandated SpEd referrals are treated......while there are many more troubled children/families that could benefit .Many of the problems students face can be best dealt with at the younger ages.

We are seeing the results of diminishing investment in our children.

Jamie
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 6:06pm

During the last lame duck session, the GOP reduced the percentage of tax revenue that goes to the School Aid Fund.

R.L.
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 10:55pm

Start by making realistic class size a priority. 30 plus kids in a kindergarten , Start a teacher at $32000 a year. Good luck get the best and brightest , . We have a lot of work ahead of us. R.L.

R.L.
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 10:56pm

Start by making realistic class size a priority. 30 plus kids in a kindergarten , Start a teacher at $32000 a year. Good luck get the best and brightest , . We have a lot of work ahead of us. R.L.

James Bell
Fri, 01/25/2019 - 6:45am

This has NOT been unintentional or without political motivation to weaken the power of teacher's unions and their members by a campaign to portray them as greedy, lazy and uncaring about the children with cushy jobs with summers off. Combine this with the right wing libertarian nonsense from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that privatization is freedom, but public education is socialism and you have the recipe for educational disaster. Then Betsy DeVos pours her millions into the scheme of charters and state funding for private, religious schools and the Republican legislators became pawns of this destructive policy. And it was PR slick enough to even capture the Democratic neo cons like Arne Duncan with the "our experiment with vouchers, Teach for America, and testing" will save THOSE children trapped in failing schools" mantra. It was always THOSE children, not their own children. Meanwhile MY children in MY classroom have been short changed of the education they should have had for the last 20 years in Michigan.

Susan Day
Sat, 03/02/2019 - 10:46am

Exactly!

Anna
Sun, 01/27/2019 - 6:29am

The headline for this article is profoundly dishonest. Michigan did not cut school funding. Failure of funding to keep up with inflation is not a cut to funding. Property tax growth is capped by the Headlee Amendment, which is different from Proposal A.
The MSU study also fails to consider the deliberate separation of school staff retirement funding, primarily for teachers, from the Foundation Allowance due to charter schools not participating in MSPERS. That's where most of the growth in funding went, especially with the huge growth in medical insurance premiums created by the coverage requirements of the ACA.

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 01/27/2019 - 12:00pm

Of course it is not just about money. It is about how we spend the money. If the money is not going to have qualified teachers in the classrooms, librarians and books, text books, art, music, and time to play, nothing will improve. It is not just about class size. If all 30 students are engaged in learning, learning will happen. If 3 of the students don't understand English, 3 can't concentrate because of ADHD, 2 have behavior issues that keep disrupting the class, then it doesn't really matter how big or small the class is. Of course it also matters what subject is being taught and at what level. If 10 of the students already know the material, they will be the biggest losers. Boredom creates other problems. So yeah, money is only one of the many problems in education. A two tier segregated education system is not working.

Linda
Sat, 03/02/2019 - 9:14am

Of course, it’s funding! When funds get cut, so do new textbooks, technology, staffing, supplies, field trips, furniture, & staff development! The list is endless. Our future deserves better & so do our students!

Linda
Sat, 03/02/2019 - 9:14am

Of course, it’s funding! When funds get cut, so do new textbooks, technology, staffing, supplies, field trips, furniture, & staff development! The list is endless. Our future deserves better & so do our students!

Linda
Sat, 03/02/2019 - 9:14am

Of course, it’s funding! When funds get cut, so do new textbooks, technology, staffing, supplies, field trips, furniture, & staff development! The list is endless. Our future deserves better & so do our students!

Gretchen Davis
Sat, 03/02/2019 - 9:23am

Not a coincidence for those of us with some common sense who use it, but then, I'm talking about the Michigan Legislature, and not many of "those serving" have the brain power to even use that God-given gift when making decisions that affect funding education!