News Story

Study Suggests Segregation Hurting Battle Creek Schools’ Budget

Data shows Battle Creek funding higher than state average and surrounding schools

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently announced it is making a gift of $51 million over five years to Battle Creek Public Schools, calling it an investment in the shrinking school district.

In the press release announcing the gift, the Kellogg Foundation said Battle Creek schools have problems because “inequities are rooted in decades of racial segregation.” Also, it said that Battle Creek is a segregated community, hurting the college readiness of its students.

An earlier foundation press release about the study said it “found that policies have exacerbated racial and socioeconomic segregation in Battle Creek, resulting in a reduction in student enrollments, budgets and program cuts in the Battle Creek Public School system.”

The Kellogg Foundation claims are based on a New York University study it underwrote, which the foundation said “unearthed significant disinvestments” in Battle Creek’s public schools.

But according to official data, state policies in Michigan appear to deliver more, not less money to Battle Creek when compared to the state average or surrounding school districts. In inflation-adjusted terms, Michigan schools, in general, have not regained the high-water mark of funding they enjoyed before the Great Recession and state’s economic dislocations of the 2000s. Battle Creek, though, has done better than average in the current decade.

The city of Battle Creek’s population is 72 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and 35 percent of the students enrolled in Battle Creek Public Schools this year are white. Nearby Pennfield Charter Township is 93 percent white, and 82 percent of the students enrolled in Pennfield Schools are white.

During the 19-year period from 1997-98 to 2015-16, Battle Creek Public Schools received on average $2,491 more per pupil in local, state and federal funding to the general fund than Pennfield Schools. That’s according to the Michigan Department of Education’s Bulletin 1014, which publishes financial information that school districts submit to it.

Battle Creek Public Schools received $11,044 per pupil in local, state and federal funds to its general fund in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent for which complete figures are available. That is $1,383 per student more than the state average funding level for all Michigan school districts, which was $9,661 last year.

By comparison, the three other school districts listed in the New York University study all received considerably less for operations in 2015-16. Lakeview ($9,704 per pupil), Harper Creek ($9,812 per pupil) and Pennfield ($9,080 per pupil) all received less than Battle Creek.

Like many school districts, Battle Creek has seen its state funding increase since 2011, but not quite enough to keep up with inflation or catch up with the fiscal damage inflicted all across Michigan’s economy during the 2000s.

In terms of just state money, Battle Creek is receiving less money this year than it did in the 2003-04 school year if inflation is calculated. It is getting $7,949 per pupil this year. That’s nominally more than the $6,889 the district received in the 2003-04 school year, but in real terms, the district would need $9,033 to have the same purchasing power.

Over the past six years, state funding for Battle Creek Public Schools has grown, but slightly below the rate of inflation. The district is getting about $86 less per pupil than 2010-11 when inflation is included.

The Kellogg Foundation study was performed by the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools and was released in February.

David Kirkland and Roey Ahram were two of the authors of the study.

When asked how the study came up with the conclusions of the district, Kirkland forwarded an email from Ahram that stated: “I can't remember if we used any of the district finance data, but if we did, we used the Michigan Department of Education Financial Dashboard (on as well as the public audits cited in the report.”

The study also lays the blame for Battle Creek’s financial situation on a state law that allows students to attend an adjacent school district, which then gets the state per pupil funding that follows each child. In Calhoun County, the amount is $7,511 per pupil.

The report accurately states that enrollments in nearby districts — Harper Creek, Lakeview and Pennfield — have increased in recent years as Battle Creek’s has declined. With fewer students, the Battle Creek district has received fewer state dollars under Michigan’s system of money following the student. Battle Creek Public Schools’ enrollment has dropped from 5,602 in 2010-11 to 4,296 in 2016-17, a 23 percent reduction.

“The only disinvestment they can point to is the money lost when families have opted to leave the school district,” said Ben DeGrow, education policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “Though Battle Creek Public Schools lost more than a third of its enrollment over the last decade, its total per-student funding levels are roughly the same.”

The study also pointed out that Battle Creek schools have a growing proportion of students considered economically disadvantaged. That number went from 69.9 percent in 2007-08 to 78.9 percent this year. One consequence is more federal funding, which is targeted at schools serving low-income populations.

Battle Creek received $1.89 million in federal Title I grant funds in 2016-17 because of its high number of low-income students. By comparison, Pennfield Schools received $551,764 in Title I money.