A Look into Michigan’s Two-Tier Education System

“Back where I come from” made famous my American Country singer Kenny Chesney paints a gorgeous picture of home that we all can attest too. My home state of Michigan is a gorgeous place. The northern part of our state often referred to many as “Up North” is our sanctuary.

I have travelled to beaches in Italy, Hawaii, Spain, Greece, and Mexico none of those places have the same feeling of tranquillity and peace, compared to watching the sunset over our lakes. The mixture of orange, yellow, and red centre with purple on the fridges is breath taking. But as you sit watching, no one ever turns around. Why would you look back into the darkness? It’s cold and concerning, but important because while we have enjoyed the sunset in my state it rots in the darkness.

Detroit Michigan was once deemed the ‘Paris’ of the United States the architecture was and is exquisite. The downtown area has been making a strong comeback, as the residential areas in the city continue to rot. I do not live in the city, but it is plain to see by the educated and socially conscience eye, that Metro-Detroit is becoming, if not already, the most divided city in the country.

Detroit has always been racially segregated. Discussion of how to combat this problem is Michigan’s largest social problem. However, in recent light of the Michigan Education Finance Study our state has become educationally segregated. Being educationally segregated has a racial factor in it, but what is clear is high performing schools receive more money, while the schools who perform worse receive less. The study went in depth to show that funding per pupil segregated by performance.

By the Numbers

High Absolute Performance (The percentage of district students scoring proficient or above is at least one standard deviation above the state-wide average in all tested subjects) in the five tested subjects are the following: Math, Reading, Writing, Social Studies, and Science.

Only 34 out of 541 have this distinction. The funding per student breakdown is as follows: For the other 507 districts that do not meet this category, the funding breakdown per student is as follows:
1 State $6,454 State $6,149
2 Local $4,518 Local $2,877
3 Federal $621 Federal $899
4 Other $5 Other $20
Total $11, 599 Total $9,944

Why the Gap Exists? 
In summary, schools who are not high performing receive $1,655 less per student than the high performing schools. To show this in a broader context in a class of 30 students that is equivalent to a $49, 650 difference. In a school of 2,000 that equivalent to a difference of $3.3 million. These figures display the education segregation at hand in our state, but how can this be allowed?

The two factors that create this segregation are the gaps in state and local funding.

The state gave $305 more per student to the school districts which performed better. Why the state would structure the funding system in this format is due to a lack of awareness of potential unintended consequences, but with this information the fix should be simple. What is not a simple solution is, why the gap for local funding is so stark? At a difference of $1,641 per student for higher performing district in comparison to the rest, this problem is structural. The way this extra money is raised is through housing taxes. This makes sense because schools (location) drive housing prices.

US News and World Report recently ranked Michigan schools. The top ten schools will be listed in order then next to it will be the city it’s located in, with the average housing value of the postal code of the school, compared to the Michigan average housing price.

  1. International AcademyBloomfield Hills 48304 $314,200, Michigan $120,200
  2. International Academy of MacombClinton Township 48038 $142,200, Michigan 120,200
  3. City Middle/High SchoolGrand Rapids 49505 $110,800, Michigan 120,200
  4. Excel Chart Academy-Grand River Prep SchoolGrand Rapids 49548 $79,900, Michigan 120,200
  5. East Grand Rapids High SchoolEast Grand Rapids 49506 $175,500, Michigan 120,200
  6. Ernest W. Seaholm High SchoolBirmingham 48009 $371,100, Michigan 120,200
  7. Saline High SchoolSaline 48176 $238,500, Michigan 120,200
  8. Grosse Pointe South High SchoolGrosse Pointe Farms 48236 $212,900, Michigan 120,200
  9. Troy High SchoolTroy 48098 $297,000, Michigan 120,200
  10. Arbor Preparatory High SchoolYpsilanti 48197 $155,000, Michigan 120,200

From the two outliers Grand Rapids, is not open to all and Excel Chart Academy, a charter school rather than a community school and therefore unlikely to benefit much from elevated house prices.

The top ten performing schools in Michigan have an average home price $89,510 more than the average Michigan home price. This data reveals that it’s a systematic problem that was implemented by the State, no doubt with good intention. These communities are not at fault for trying to educate their children the best way, by increasing funding for schools. The responsibility is then on the State to help the districts that do not have this form of internal revenue support. The State came up with these rules and most fix them to put a halt to education segregation.