For Release on:
June 16, 2016

Contact: Craig Thiel
517.485.9444
or Eric Lupher
734.542.8001

The Next Challenge in Funding the Education of Detroit School Children

A new report shows that the out-migration from Detroit and the increasing use of school choice is changing the composition of students in the Detroit Public Schools, and those changes are creating costs for educating special education students that are proportionately larger than the state average or for the charter and traditional school districts that surround Detroit.

The Detroit education market has continued to shrink on the whole and that almost all of the total enrollment decline has come out of the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) market share of public school enrollment. This enrollment decline has changed the composition of DPS’s student body. Today, a higher percentage of special education students attend DPS than the statewide average and the Wayne County average.

According to the new Citizens Research Council of Michigan report,
Public School Enrollment Trends in Detroit, DPS educates just 41 percent of all Detroit children enrolled in public school, compared to 60 percent six years ago. Charter schools located inside and outside of the city are the majority educator of Detroit kids with 46 percent market share, up from 31 percent six years ago.
The enrollment changes have affected the enrollment composition in nearly all the schools that educate Detroit children, and this is most apparent in the number and share of special education students attending DPS. For the current year, nearly one of every five DPS students (18 percent) receives special education services. In terms of market share, DPS educates 54 percent of all Detroit special education students enrolled in public school.

“While DPS’s overall enrollment decline is well publicized, there has been much less attention directed at the special education enrollment changes in the Detroit market,” said Craig Thiel. “Students with disabilities are less likely than students without disabilities to leave DPS for alternative providers serving the Detroit market.”

Michigan’s funding model for special education services requires school district general funds to serve as the “funder of last resort.” This means after all dedicated special education funding is exhausted, districts must provide general funds to cover approved special education costs. For DPS, this amounted to $970 per general education student, more than the county average ($631 per pupil). This leaves fewer general fund dollars to deliver quality services to non-special education students.

“The recently enacted reform legislation to deal with DPS’s legacy debts and governance issues will likely stabilize the district’s financial situation, at least in the near term, and may reduce some of the instability that has contributed to overall enrollment declines,” said Thiel. “However, it does nothing to address the financing challenges posed by the district’s disproportionately high special education population. This will require state policymakers to turn their attention to Michigan’s special education funding model.”

The paper is available at no cost on the Citizens Research Council’s website, www.crcmich.org.

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