News Story

Michigan Public School Enrollment Down 25 Percent Since 1978

Where have all the schoolchildren gone? From 2 million then to 1.5 million now

In 1978, William Milliken was the governor of Michigan, there was a famous blizzard here, and 2 million children were enrolled in the state’s public schools. Milliken (now age 95) is now long gone from public life and we just experienced a mild winter. But 2 million students stands as the high-water mark for public school enrollment in this state.

Michigan public school enrollment totaled 1,502,651 children in fall 2016, according to the state Department of Education, down from 1,507,753 the previous school year. That marks the 14th consecutive year of enrollment decline. The state then dropped to a student count of 1,493,471 in the spring of 2017.

Enrollment declines translate into less money for Michigan school districts, because under a state funding formula, an average of around $7,611 follows each student to whatever district he or she lands in. For public schools, fewer students mean less money.

The Flint and Detroit school districts have been among the hardest hit.

Flint had 83,634 students in the 1999-2000 school year. Enrollment dropped to 4,900 in spring 2017. Detroit had 168,213 students in 1999-2000, and it was down to just 44,869 in the latest count.