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School funding disparity

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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Districts can also hold millage elections for improvements to buildings, for technology and security, and other items that are not for operations of the district, such as salaries, transportation and pensions. Proposal A also shifted the burden of legacy costs, in the form of pensions and other benefits, to the local districts from the state, adding to the operational costs for local school districts.

Naeyaert said a primary problem at the time was the funding disparities between school districts across the state, which he said ranged at the time from $3,500 to $10,000 per pupil. "Several people felt it was unjust, immoral and not right," he asserted.

"It's important to acknowledge there's been an attempt to decrease the funding gap between the highest and lowest funded districts," said Craig Thiel, senior research associate for Citizens Research Council of Michigan in Lansing. "The policy that has been implemented has been to bring the bottom district up to narrow the gap. Most often, if there are extra funds (in the state budget), they have made a point to provide them to low-funded districts to narrow that gap. There are years where the increases (to all school districts) is equal, wherever you are on the spectrum, so there is no difference to the gap. Most recently, in the current year, the lowest funded districts got $120 extra per pupil the grant went up by $120 and those at the top went up by $60."

Thiel explained that in an effort to narrow the funding gap, the original funding formula has been a two-times formula, where the districts at the bottom receive twice the amount than the districts at the top.

"In terms of revenue it narrowed the gap," Arsen said. "Before, the gap was three to one. Proposal A has progressively narrowed that gap. Now, 80 percent of Michigan students receive funding within $500 of each other."

Originally, in 1994, the gap between rich and poor schools, and the foundation allowance otherwise known as the per pupil amount they received was $2,300. Currently, for the 2015-2016 school year, the gap is down to $718.

"The average base amount for most school districts is $7,391," said state Rep. Mike McCready (R-Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Hills), who is on the state House of Representatives Education Committee.

Included in that base are a majority of the state's public districts as well as all charter schools. Charter schools cannot levy additional millages.

There are some districts including Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham which continue to receive significantly more funding. They are known as "hold harmless" districts. Hold harmless districts are wealthier districts that were allowed by law to levy additional millages to achieve their prescribed foundation allowance, to collect more money per pupil when Proposal A was set up, allowing them to offer programs not available in lesser funded districts, such as fine arts, sports and other enrichments.

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