Once again Michigan Republicans are asserting they are increasing education funding through an omnibus appropriations bill they passed this week. The claim is that under their 4 percent increase, schools will see a rise of between $50 and $175 per student, depending on the district. Those schools with the lowest baseline grants stand to see the largest bump — taking them from $7,076 to $7,251.
Is this really an increase?
Prior to Gov. Snyder’s now infamous School Aid Fund robbery when he took office, the lowest per pupil allowance was $7,316 — $65 more than the FY2014/15 budgeted amount.
But there’s more to the picture — and it’s not pretty. Democracy Tree provided a short primer on school funding earlier this year. Here are the highlights:
Michigan’s been long over-due for an understandable explanation of the actual numbers behind K-12 school funding. We deserve a nuts-n-bolts tutorial that puts the numbers into context. You’ll find it below, with the aid of two simple graphics from the Citizens Research Council, and a few words of explanation by Democracy Tree. Arm yourself with the knowledge of facts and numbers.
Below is a bar graph that illustrates the funding numbers, and adjusts them for inflation. (As a matter of practicality, the chart uses the most common per pupil funding level in the state — the lowest. Also, note the final two years are based on executive budget proposals.)
The graph takes into account Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System (MPSERS) costs, for both the state and the school district. A 2012 law capped school districts’ allowable MPSERS portion of payroll to 20.96 percent, making the state liable for the growing difference.
The full bar represents total Michigan K-12 per pupil funding — divided by source. Broken down: The ecru-colored portion shows real dollars from the state going directly to the classroom, and the light blue part is the school district’s MPSERS obligation — those two add-up to the state’s per pupil foundation grant allowance to the district from the State School Aid Fund (SAF). The shaded dark blue portion at the top is the growing state portion of legally required MPSERS funds.
But, the important number here is tracked by the red line — this measures the actual classroom funding adjusted to the Consumer Price Index — dollars after inflation. That’s about a thousand dollar per pupil decrease since 2005.
Republican economics typically employ a broader view of overall spending, including federal dollars, not differentiating between various end-uses of the appropriations — without for example, breaking-down what money actually flows into the classroom or was directed towards MPSERS, or other K-12 education policy initiatives.
The graph below demonstrates total K-12 appropriations and divides them on a per pupil basis, even though not all went to students. It includes monies from the SAF, state MPSERS contributions, minor supplements from the state general fund, federal contributions, and in 2009-11, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) funds. Once again, the red line is adjusted for inflation.
As you can see, this graph shows spending is up, even though, as shown in the previous graphic, actual money flowing into classrooms is down, adjusted for inflation.
It is disingenuous to imply that under Republican leadership schools have fared better. Voters need to understand this as they read uncritical reports of increased education spending. Michigan students are still getting short-changed.