Public Education Governance in Michigan
January 2010
Report 359

Because education is crucial to a functioning democracy, economic competitiveness, and personal achievement, it is considered a high priority by officials at all three levels of government, as well as by the public in general. It used to be that education was the responsibility of local governments, but now policymakers at all three levels of government are inserting themselves into the education debate and claiming responsibility for the regulation and oversight of education. An understanding of the governance structure of education in Michigan is fundamental to understanding school finance and the implications of policy decisions made at all levels.


In Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, Michigan’s public education system provided education to 1.66 million students. Programs were delivered by 551 traditional local school districts, 57 intermediate school districts (ISDs), and 232 public school academies (PSAs) operating in approximately 4,000 buildings. An estimated 131,570 students were educated outside of the public school system either in private schools or home schools. Most, if not all, Michigan residents are involved in the public education system as a recipient (current or former), a provider (e.g., teacher or administrator), and/or a funder (many non-residents contribute to the state’s public education system as well by paying the Michigan sales tax). The quality of Michigan’s K-12 education system has repercussions that penetrate throughout the state and its economy by affecting income levels in the state, crime rates and the cost of criminal justice programs, higher education attainment rates and the costs associated with remedial education and human services, among other things.

The different government actors and agencies with a formal role in the public K-12 education system include:

  • The President, Congress, and the United States Department of Education;
  • The governor, state legislature, state board of education, state superintendent of public instruction, Michigan Department of Education (MDE), and other state departments;
  • Local school boards and superintendents;
  • PSAs and their authorizing bodies (state university boards, community college boards, ISD boards, and local school boards); and,
  • ISDs.

In addition, other groups and actors have influence over education governance and policy, including federal and state courts, unions, state and local education associations, and community interest groups. Federal and state courts have legal authority over public education; the other groups exert influence by lobbying policymakers at all levels of government.

Table 1 details the education functions performed by different levels of government. The policy functions include influencing education policy, creating policy, and implementing policy. Education policy is made at all three levels of government (federal, state, and local), but is generally implemented at the local level. Education oversight responsibilities encompass holding education providers and students accountable for outcomes (e.g., test scores, drop-out rates, spending levels, etc.), as well as holding teachers and schools responsible for district-level policies; they are performed by the federal and state governments and local school boards and administrators. Education services are provided primarily at the local level. The funding section of the table indicates the government officials who have authority over education funding decisions, as well as those who have responsibility for creating and adopting a budget to provide education-related services.

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