STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

School funding lower than in 2008. Welcome back to school?

Michael B.

Students from dozens of Michigan districts headed back to school today.

As students break out their No. 2 pencils and notebooks, parents might be interested in reading this new report about how schools across the country are being forced to make do with less money and fewer teachers.

The report, from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has lots of juicy and well-researched stats, but it  also tells a bigger story about this particular political moment where spending cuts are more likely than tax increases.

According to the report, Michigan has cut school funding by 8.8 percent since 2008.

The federal government shelled out some cash during the recession to make up for some of those cuts, but state funding has always made up the lions share. Here's a breakdown of where Michigan schools get their funding: 13 percent federal, 34 percent local districts, 53 percent state.

This year, per pupil funding in Michigan is $6,966.

As a comparison, here are a few private school tuition costs across the state: at least $9,000 to send a boy to Detroit Jesuit, at least $18,565 to send a child to Greenhills in Ann Arbor, and at least $18,900 to send a child to Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills.

So how do public schools make do with less? Many have cut costs through laying off teachers, and cutting programs like sports or art that don't easily translate to achievement tests. Other districts have reduced bus services, and some are thinking about consolidating and shutting some schools down.

Schools are also asking communities, teachers, and parents to help more; buy more cookies as part of the fundraiser, pay for extra-curricular activities, and donate to the classroom supply fund more often.

In districts where residents are doing well and can help chip in these spending cuts might be felt less by students.

But how do spending cuts affect students in less well-off districts?

The answer: we don't know yet.

There is not a one-to-one relationship between low-funding and low-achievement. But schools with fewer resources have a harder time retaining good teachers and getting students to college, for example. So how will Michigan's current funding formula affect students this school year and into the future?  We are on the front lines of a social experiment to find out.