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School funding disparity

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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Naeyaert said there is a correlation between test scores and dollars spent on funding. "The state of the art research shows money does matter. It costs more to educate a poor child; it costs more to educate a special needs child. Money matters, and Michigan is one of the places that has underscored that. Now we know more from the research how to more effectively spend the money. This is important for the whole state. I think it's wonderful the children in Bloomfield Hills, Rochester, West Bloomfield have the opportunities they have. The opportunities should exist in other places too. They shouldn't have to move here. It should be available to every Michigan child," he said.

According to Michael D. LaFaive and Jack McHugh of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, Proposal A has achieved some of its goals and fallen short on others. "One unexpected outcome was to facilitate a robust school-of-choice system, which came about when a subsequent law freed children from a ZIP code-enforced school assignment, allowing them to attend a neighboring school district that has space," they wrote in a report. "Because under the new system money follows individual students to the district their parents choose, or to the charter public school, another subsequent innovation, school have (had) a sharp incentive to raise their game if a student walks from his local district, the state foundation allowance goes with him or her."

While many Michigan districts, such as Detroit, have seen higher per pupil allocations, what has stung them is a continuing statewide decline in enrollment.

"The big factor is enrollment, for the state as a whole. It's down, and that's good, so that money can be spread around. But for individual districts, it is a terrible thing, because it's attached to a student and it travels with the student and they get less revenue," MSU's Arsen pointed out. "The districts that are in tailspins, that are in collapse, are ones losing enrollment. Many suburbs are doing OK because they've held onto their enrollment." But many, including affluent districts, are carefully watching their enrollment numbers, holding their breath with even the smallest dips.

Arsen points out that nowhere does the financial stress of Proposal A, with its emphasis on per pupil dollars, impact a district more than for Detroit Public Schools, where it faces hundreds of millions of dollars up to half a billion dollars of debt after decades of enrollment loss and six years of emergency management.

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