Finance and Organization

The Michigan Constitution states that the Michigan Legislature "shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools" for all pupils "without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin."[1] The Legislature passes bills that organize, regulate and help finance these schools, and because these bills typically cannot become law without the approval of the state’s governor,[i] the governor usually influences the organization, regulation and financing of the schools.[ii]

Michigan’s public school policy is also influenced by the State Board of Education, to which the Michigan Constitution assigns "[l]eadership and general supervision" of the state’s public elementary and secondary schools.[2] The board is constitutionally empowered to "serve as the general planning and coordinating body for all public education" and to "advise the [L]egislature as to the financial requirements in connection therewith."[3]

Board members are elected by a statewide vote, and together they appoint a state superintendent of public instruction, who may be terminated by the board at any time.[4] The superintendent’s primary constitutional duty is to implement the board’s policies by serving as the "principal executive officer" of the Michigan Department of Education,[5] which is a state agency that supervises Michigan’s public elementary and secondary schools on the board’s behalf.[6]

The U.S Congress and the president also help finance Michigan’s public school system through federal appropriations of money to help state governments finance local school systems.[7] Congress and the president usually attach conditions to the use of this money, giving both Congress and the president some influence over the organization and regulation of Michigan’s schools. The primary conduit for this federal money and for many of the regulatory decisions about the money’s use is the U.S. Department of Education, a federal agency under the supervision of the president. Other federal departments, such as the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also disburse some federal money ultimately spent by Michigan’s schools, and these departments likewise exert some control over the spending of this money.[8]

Local authority over Michigan’s public schools is usually exercised by local school districts established by the Legislature and authorized to receive state and local tax revenues on behalf of the public schools within the district’s geographic limits, which are set by the Legislature.[9] The districts are run by local boards of education composed of members regularly elected by the voters who reside within the districts. The legal, fiduciary and educational responsibilities of the districts’ schools are supervised by the districts’ superintendents of schools,[10] who are selected by their respective boards and serve at the boards’ pleasure.[11] There are 552 such local school districts in Michigan, and every part of the state of Michigan falls within the borders of one of the districts.

Some Michigan public schools are not under the supervision of a district authorized by the Legislature. Such schools, known as "public school academies" or "charter schools," receive the status of public schools and the power to accept public tax revenues when public universities, community colleges[iii] or "intermediate school districts" (discussed below) formally approve the schools’ organizing "charter" documents and agree to monitor the schools’ conduct and adherence to the charter documents’ provisions. Public school academies can also be "chartered" by local school districts.[12] Charter schools remain public schools at the discretion of the institutions that approved the charters, and the schools receive state money under an arrangement different from that of other public schools.[iv] There are approximately 225 charter schools in Michigan.

The Michigan Legislature has also established "intermediate school districts."[13] An intermediate school district includes a number of local school districts within its borders and acts as a service agency for these districts, often by providing the districts with certain transportation and special education services. Intermediate districts may also provide support services to charter schools.[v] Some intermediate districts have boundaries that correspond with county lines, and all of the state’s local school districts and charter schools fall within the borders of one of the state’s intermediate districts. ISDs have boards selected by school board members from the ISDs’ constituent districts.[vi]

[i] If the governor refuses to approve a legislative bill, the Legislature can still make the bill a law if two-thirds of the members of each house of the Legislature vote to approve the bill within 14 days of the governor’s formal refusal to sign the bill. See Michigan Constitution of 1963, Article IV, Section 33.

[ii] The people of Michigan also retain the right to affect the organization, policies and finance of the state’s public elementary and secondary schools in one of four ways: through laws they propose and enact in an “initiative” process; through laws the Legislature proposes and the people enact in a “referendum” process; through a state constitutional amendment approved by a petition and vote of the people; or through a state constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature and approved by a vote of the people. See Michigan Constitution of 1963, Article II, Section 9; Article XII, Section 2; and Article XII, Section 1.

[iii] Community colleges are government-financed institutions that are established by the Legislature and award two-year post-secondary school degrees.

[iv] Another difference between charter schools and other public schools is that most or all of the students enrolled in the other schools usually reside within the school district, since all students whose families reside within the district are entitled to attend the schools. The school district may or may not choose to allow students from outside the district to attend the schools (see MCL §§ 388.1705, 388.1705c). Charter school enrollment is not determined by a student’s place of residence. Students generally enroll on a first-come, first-served basis unless the school does not have sufficient space for all applicants, in which case it holds a lottery to determine which students will be admitted (see MCL § 380.504(3)). For exceptions to this practice, such as providing enrollment preference to siblings of current students, see MCL § 380.504(3).

[v] MCL § 380.627(1)(d).

[vi] See MCL § 380.614 for a discussion of the election process.