Michigan Schools Receive Over $12,500 Per Student

The history of education spending

Though "schools are underfunded" is a popular belief, per-pupil funding in Michigan has increased substantially over the past 20 years. Even so, the current state budget includes a $500,000 line item for an “adequacy study" that could lead to even more school spending. The declared purpose of the study is to determine how much taxpayers must spend for public schools to educate students sufficiently well to meet state graduation requirements, presumably with no substantive changes to the status quo system.

The study expenditure was authorized as part of a legislative deal last December to get Democratic legislators to support the Proposal 1 tax increase ballot measure, which was defeated by voters on May 5 of this year.

When all revenue sources are included, public schools in this state received $11,040 per pupil in 1995. The figure today is $12,570, or $1,530 more per student, a 13.8 percent increase even after inflation. (The figures are stated in 2014 dollars.)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Michigan ranks near the middle of the states in per-pupil public school funding. When the state's per capita income is considered, Michigan’s K-12 spending ranks in the top ten nationally.

If the adequacy study were to determine that Michigan’s $12,570 figure is inadequate, arguably that would be the same as saying that half of the 50 states’ funding levels are inadequate also. Yet, the U.S. spends more on education than any other nation.

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Looking at just the past 10 years, the school funding picture is more complex than a straight-line increase. There has been a modest 1 percent decline since 2005, due in part to a funding spike in 2003, which happened just as Michigan was entering its single state recession. This period also includes the nation's Great Recession of 2008-09 and the one-time federal spending blowout of the Obama stimulus program.

When adjusted for inflation, total K-12 revenue in 2003 was the equivalent of $13,397 per pupil in today’s dollars. Funding from all sources declined briefly, but was rising again when it reached $13,411 in 2006, and peaked at $13,770 in 2009, the year of the Obama stimulus (all figures expressed in 2014 dollars).

Just as funding has gone both up and down, so too has enrollment. Public school enrollment in the state is 4 percent below what it was in 1995. It rose for a few years after that, peaking in 2002-2003, but has fallen 11 percent since 2005. Under the foundation allowance funding system, money follows the student, which can create stress for school districts with declining enrollment. This fact may contribute to an impression among local school employees that K-12 funding has undergone a significant drop statewide, which has not been the case.

These statistics are from the Center for Education Performance and Information; Historical Form B (1995-2003) and the Financial Information Database (2004 – 2014) of the Senate Fiscal Agency.

Looking further back, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, when measured in 2014 dollars, Michigan public schools spent $5,623 per pupil in 1970, $7,991 in 1980 and $10,264 in 1990. These are not revenue figures, as are the ones above; they represent only spending amounts.

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See also:

MSNBC Host Who Said Kids Belong To Community Also Says Education Funding Desperately Inadequate

Michigan School Funding Up, Results Flat


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Michigan Adequacy Study Shows the State Already Spends Plenty on Education

School Funding in Michigan Reaches All-Time High

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