According to the Race for Results Index for 2017, Michigan children of all racial and ethnic groups are falling behind their national peers in educational attainment, with Michigan’s African-American children coming in last in many educational indicator. Further, Michigan ranked 41st overall in educational outcomes in the national 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book.
Within the state of Michigan, African-American children fared the worst overall on educational indicators. Only 4% of Michigan’s African-American children are reading at their grade level in fourth grade, and only 5% are performing grade-level math in eighth grade. These low scores for educational attainment are part of the reason for Michigan’s African-American children receiving the lowest child well-being score of all African-American children in the country.
The educational disparities between African-American children and other racial groups in Michigan stem from structural discrimination, including segregated housing practices that persist to this day. Throughout the 1960’s many historically white neighborhoods would refuse to allow African-American families to move in by writing neighborhood charters specifically excluding African-Americans. Historical legacies of segregation are still present today, and manifest in our school districts and school funding policies.
Predominantly African-American and immigrant areas have much lower property values, so schools in these areas receive less funds from property tax millages. Housing segregation and the resulting disparity in school funds persists today, as evidenced in the 2017 Race for Results data.
African-American children in Michigan are over 70% more likely to live in high-poverty areas where schools lack the resources to meet the needs of all students. These numbers are in stark contrast to the 82% of White Michigan children living in low-poverty areas and the 18% of White Michigan children living in high-poverty areas.
The 2017 Race for Results data can help us better understand the ways in which race and underfunded schools are inextricably linked because of legacies of segregated neighborhoods and the dependence of schools on property tax millages.
Steps in the Right Direction
There is good news: Michigan has programs in place working to close the funding gap between schools in affluent areas and schools in struggling areas, and the legislature has approved increased funding for these programs for 2018.
Per-pupil funding will increase by $60-$120 per pupil, with more funding for districts with families of low income. The legislature also increased funding for the At-Risk School Aid program by $120 million. This program specifically assists school districts with a large number of children from families with low incomes who receive temporary cash or food assistance or who are homeless, who are disproportionately children of color.
More to Do
Despite these positive steps, there is much more work to do to ensure that children of color, especially African-American children, have equal access to quality education within Michigan. The state of Michigan must increase funding to schools that are struggling to make up for the disparity in property tax millages between affluent school districts and school districts with families of low income.
Many creative solutions to educational disparities and underfunding are coming from grassroots community organizing. Detroit-based group 482 Forward is a coalition of neighborhood organizations, parents, and youth working together to make sure that all children of Detroit have access to a quality education, regardless of socioeconomic status or race.
Lawmakers should look to local, community-led groups such as 482 Forward for a better understanding of bottom-up strategies to combat structural inequities and economic disparities to better support all children in Michigan, particularly children of color.
— Casey Paskus, Kids Count Intern