Special Bulletin 229, January 1933


At a time when all governmental expenditures are being critically scrutinized by the public and by legislative bodies, with the purpose of effecting economies and reductions, public school expenditures come prominently to view because no other governmental function of the State requires so large an outlay of funds as does the public school system. Along with other governmental costs, public school expenditures in the State have increased rapidly in the past few decades until in 1930 the annual outlay for this service amounted to approximately 135 million dollars.

Appendix Tables I and II present a rather comprehensive picture of the rise in school costs and school population since 1900. Appendix Table III presents some of these data for the decade 1920-1930 in the form of percentages of the year 1920. Costs have risen more rapidly than school attendance and this can be accounted for in part by the general rise in the price level over the period covered and, in part by the increased percentage of high school attendance and the improved quality, on the whole, of the educational program.

The portion of the increase in cost of public school education which has been due to a demand for a richer and better educational program has probably been justified. At any rate, this phase of the school cost problem is more properly left for discussion to persons occupying positions of leadership and trust in the field of Education.

However, assuming the quality of the educational offering as now given to be necessary and desirable, the question arises whether the present form of organization and administration of the school system of the State is efficient in rendering this educational service or whether some other form of organization could be devised which would result in economies as well as improvement in the service.

The one-room school districts are most frequently cited as proof that some organizational change in the public school system is desirable.  Of the 6,775 school districts in the State, approximately 5.138 are one-room school districts.  In the year 1930-31, 549 of these schools operated with an average daily attendance of 10 or less, and an average operating cost per pupil of $13.95 per month.  At the other extreme, there were 220 one-room schools with an average daily attendance above 40, having an operating cost per pupil of $3.96 per month. It thus appears that these extremes point to an inefficient use and distribution of school facilities.

Anther problem, largely due to the independent district system, is the great variation in tax burdens imposed upon the taxpayers in the different school districts. Even when there is n0 apparent difference in the quality of the educational service or the efficiency in rendering the service, the variation in tax burdens between local districts is great.  Nor is this condition remedied by the present method of distributing state funds to local districts.

The Michigan Legislature of 1929, created a state educational survey commission to inquire into these problems. This commission, because of the limited amount of funds at its disposal, centered its attention on the problem of equalizing the school taxes and recommended a plan for this purpose to the legislature. In its report, however, the commission had the following to say regarding the present district organization.

“The two largest items in the cost of a one-room school are the teacher’s salary and the building. A county board of education by rearranging thy districts could reduce the number of buildings necessary and cut down the number of teachers required. The larger classes resulting.. would be advantageous to the pupils and would permit better supervision.”

“The beginning of a county system of education should be set up at once. This should be accompanied by a continuance of the present study of school finances, together with a study of county school district organization of administration.”

The recommendation of this commission with respect to continuing the study of school finances, together with a study of school district government, was acted upon by the legislature of 1931 by including “School District Government” when it created the “State Commission of Inquiry into County, Township, and School District Government.” This study and report has been prepared in cooperation with this last named commission.



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