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School funding disparity

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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"All districts complain about funding, because the cost of education is hotly debated," McCready said, noting Birmingham and Bloomfield offer "costly programs like various arts programs and sports which are important to a child's exposure to the world market. They offer Mandarin. Where else do they get that? Our children are well-prepared by their education for what else is out there."

Naeyaert said at the time Proposal A was set up, there were several districts investing more than other districts, "so they were grandfathered in to charge an operating millage above the $6,500 to continue at their level of funding. That's why the appearance is that Bloomfield Hills is getting $12,000. They're only getting the base amount from the state. The difference is made up from a local operating millage."

For the current year, Birmingham receives $11,924 per student; Bloomfield Hills receives $12,004; Rochester, $8,076; Avondale, $8,169; Troy, $8,955; Southfield, $10,971; Royal Oak, $8,758; and Novi, $8,479. They are all what are called "hold harmless" districts, which McCready said is at 56 districts across the state. Arsen noted that 85 percent of the state's hold harmless districts are in the Detroit suburbs. Notable exceptions are Ann Arbor Schools, E. Grand Rapids, and Harbor Springs.

"They (Harbor Springs) get a lot of money. They have a lot of tax revenue (from vacation homes) to work with, but they may have only 100 kids in a graduating class," noted McCready. A few miles away, in Pellston, is a different story, without that expensive vacation home tax base.

While the gap between the highest and lowest funded districts has been narrowed, Arsen said it did nothing to shift the positioning of district. "Bloomfield Hills was at the top in 1994, and it still is. No one jumped the order. Those that were at the tail-end, they're always at the tail-end," he said. "The only difference is the bottom was brought up. More than two-thirds of the lower-funded districts were brought up, if you're ranking just by revenues. Before 1994, districts weren't getting any money from the state. Now, everyone gets money from the state through foundation grants. And it's been that way for 22 years. Most of the compression (between the gap) took place in the first decade. But all growth has slowed. And growth per pupil has not kept up with inflation. In the last 10 years, that has been true for all Michigan schools."

David Crim, spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association, disagreed with the success of Michigan's funding levels. "Michigan's commitment to education funding is inadequate. It is not a coincidence that the high academic performing districts are also the highest funded districts in the state. The study provides solid evidence that Michigan has failed to adequately fund public schools to achieve optimal student performance. The study determined that 'notably successful' districts should have at least an $8,667 per pupil foundation grant. A 'notably successful' district is defined in the study as one that meets above average performance standards. Currently, the lowest funded districts receive approximately $1,200 less per pupil. Like Garrison Keillor, we want all of our students to be above average, but we continue to shortchange them year after year. Each school year that goes by is another year Michigan students are short-changed. We demand excellence from our teachers, we demand high achievement from our students, yet we fail to adequately fund our public schools to give those teachers and students a fair chance to achieve those goals."

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