Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Michigan School Finance Primer: Part 1 (With Awesome Graphics)

My friend and I were discussing the Ann Arbor schools budget. (I know, wild and crazy, right?) She was saying, "Why can't we do X," and "Why can't we do Y," and I was saying, "It's because of how Michigan's school finance system works." And she said, "It's so confusing. I need a graphic or something."

So here is my attempt at graphics. Over the coming year I will try and do a series of pieces about Michigan's school finance system. Yes, it's all stuff you need to know.

Shelly, these are for you (and for the rest of you too.) Apologies for the white out--my high school friends used to say I could never write a complete page without crossing something out...

This fine drawing done by Ruth Kraut (2013). It's ok to use it if credit is given.
And I think if you want to see it better, just click on it to enlarge it.

This fine drawing done by Ruth Kraut (2013). It's ok to use it if credit is given.
And I should have mentioned in the graphic that in the post-Proposal A
world, the state generally was providing 80% of the school funding.
If you want to see the drawing better, just click on it to enlarge it.

The basics come from a paper done by the Senate Fiscal Agency in 2004 by Kathryn Summers-Coty, Proposal A: Are We Better Off? A Ten-Year Analysis 1993-1994 through 2003-2004. We'll take a closer look at that in a later post, but I found this paper to be stunning. It uses certain assumptions to compare 1993-1994 (all thoroughly described in the paper) and concludes that ten years later,

out of 553 school districts, 28 are better off with Proposal A and 525 are worse off in terms of combined State and local revenue. Essentially, this means that comparing actual 2003-04 State Aid payments plus districts' actual 2003-04 local property tax revenue with estimated State payments and local revenue if Proposal A had not happened, yields less money for 95% of the districts (p. 2, emphases added).


  1. Any idea what steps need to be taken to repeal Prop A? In your opinion, any chance in hell it could happen before all our school districts are bankrupt and taken over by for-profit charters?

  2. Kate, not surprisingly, this is a really difficult issue. According to Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools, Proposal A was written in a way that gave "something for everybody" and so if you talk about repealing it, there are parts people want to keep.

    Additionally, Proposal A was a constitutional amendment, and then additional laws have been layered on over it. I don't have a great handle on the details, but perhaps I will get Steve or someone else to write a guest post about the possibilities for the future.

  3. I don't think Prop A needs to be repealed, in part because it was not that awful an idea. It did lead to equalization of funding between richer and poorer districts. What sucks about financing since then is that the law still allows anti-public-education legislators to play with how much money everyone gets, as we saw over the last few years. The solution is to promote a vision of great public education that makes it political suicide to screw the schools. Perhaps the national embarrassment we earned in MI this year having schools shut down before the school year was over might cause people in the reactionary politician's districts to look more closely at the people they vote for. It is going to require some organizing in those districts, though, and I'm not sure the Dems are up to the task.