Facts, Not Fiction, on State School Spending

K-12 spending up three consecutive years

Just before Gov. Rick Snyder began his State of the State address Thursday evening, a principal in Escanaba tweeted

"When Gov Snyder claims school funding has increased keep in mind that Escanaba gets less money per pupil than in 2011"

The claim was popular, drawing retweets from Progress Michigan and Mark Schauer, the Democratic candidate for governor.

But it isn't true.

According to the Treasury Department's State Aid Status reports, Escanaba is slated to receive more than $16 million in funding from the state during the 2013-14 school year. During the 2010-11 school year, Escanaba received $15.9 million. 

Escanaba might be struggling financially, but the cause is not a lack of support from state taxpayers. Since 2010-11, Escanaba's enrollment declined by more than 100 pupils, meaning that the district is in fact getting more state revenue per pupil this year than in 2011. 

It's clear that school funding will be a campaign issue this year. When Gov. Snyder discussed the state's increased expenditures on K-12 education during the State of the State, half of the audience stood and cheered. The others — presumably Democrats — sat, stone-faced.

Already, unions and some Democratic officials are circulating claims of funding cuts as high as $2 billion. But such claims are not only inaccurate, they are designed to exploit the complexity of Michigan's school funding system and the fact that few laypeople understand how it actually works.

In 2010, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy published a series of "School Funding Myths" in an attempt to debunk some of the most common. The first myth, likely the most prevalent, is that the "state foundation allowance" is the amount of money per pupil each district receives from the state.

In reality, the state foundation allowance is raised both from state and local sources of revenue. State taxpayers also support public schools with another $2 billion in "categorical grants."

This money is used to support schools serving at-risk populations, special education students and those meeting so-called "best practices," among other things. A large portion of this money has been used in recent years to reduce the cost to school districts for the severely underfunded and increasingly expensive school employee pension system.

When proponents of increased K-12 education spending refer to changes in the foundation allowance as evidence of state-level cuts, they are ignoring that additional $2 billion. They are essentially cherry picking the type of spending they like best and ignoring all the rest. 

Whether state spending on K-12 education has increased is not a question open for debate. It is a fact: Overall state spending has increased during each of the past three years.