MLive Sends Mixed Messages on School Funding

Education spending has increased

Leslie Public Schools is typical of many Michigan school districts - more money with fewer students. Leslie Public Schools will get $9.9 million in state funding for 1,324 students in 2015. That district received $9.2 million in 2009 for 1,372 students.

The statewide news service MLive has sent mixed messages in its reporting on Michigan public school funding issues, appearing to cite conflicting data to match the conclusions of different stories or editorials.

Early last year, the news service posted a “fact check” column on the claims of Gov. Rick Snyder's political opponents, who said he had cut school spending by $1 billion.

MLive in Feb. 2014:

State-specific school aid spending rose from $10.8 billion in 2011 to $11.5 billion in 2014, according to the SFA (Senate Fiscal Agency). That means overall state aid is up around 6.4 percent since Snyder took office.

However, 17 months later, MLive’s editorial board expressed a different take on school funding as it took shots at a House Republican proposal to fix Michigan’s roads without a tax increase.

MLive in May 2015:

Michigan is spending 9.5 percent less per student now than it did before the 2008 economic downturn, and our students have fallen far behind other states. We cannot continue to rob our children of the resources necessary for a strong education if we want an educated workforce in the future.

Which is it?

ForTheRecord says: MLive's 2015 school finance reference cites a flawed study by the center-left Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The editorial linked to a previous story about that study.

The CBPP admits its study did not include funding from annual sources that contribute billions of dollars to Michigan school budgets, reportedly to make state-to-state comparisons easier to draw. Among the excluded revenue streams were billions from local property taxes, and state money that supports special education and intermediate school districts. The study also did not include state and federal grants to schools with more "at-risk" students and federal money for school lunch programs.

CBPP has repeated its study and methodology several times over a number of years, and previous editions also excluded major school funding sources. In one year (2007-08), the exercise excluded $10 billion of the total $19.6 billion that Michigan public schools actually received that year.

In 2014 MLive referenced a closer-to-home and more authoritative source in its "fact check" of clearly excessive campaign claims from Democrats about Snyder's school spending record. Rather than using the incomplete information from a challenged study, it cited a regularly updated Senate Fiscal Agency report whose totals include all state and federal funding sources for Michigan public schools. The report showed increases in state funding, which occurred even though there were fewer students.

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