Contributors: Navu Kaur and Gurveer Gill
For Detroit Public Schools, declining enrollment has been a historical trend. A revised deficit elimination plan released to the Free Press in 2013 predicted that DPS enrollment will continue to decline, “leaving the school district with about 13,000 fewer students and 28 fewer schools by 2016” (Detroit Free Press). Not only that, but according to the State School Aid Act, if attendance at any district falls below 75% on any given day during the school year, then the district loses per-pupil allocation for that day.
During the 2010-2011 school year, DPS reported over 19 days during which attendance fell below the threshold. As a result, the district suffered a loss of over 4.28 million dollars over the next four years (The Huffington Post). Because of this, funding by the state government is actually unequal: schools with lower enrollment and attendance end up being of lower quality because of per-pupil allowances. Evidently, declining enrollment and attendance are an issue that Detroit Public Schools face and this in turn causes monetary loss for the district. In terms of feasibility, the policies have been in place for over 20 years, but in recent years, there has been a decline in the School Aid Fund Tax Revenues (Jalilevand, Education Brief). Thus, the state government has not been able to keep up with its duties to provide schools with money.
Essentially, education is expensive, but helps economic growth tremendously so in a way it also is efficient. All in all, this is a good policy that needs some reform to create newer sources of revenue and become equitable. It also relates to our problem in a way: if students start to dropout and grade level increases, enrollment decreases, and the end result is low-quality schools. The students that stayed in school are thus at a disadvantage because of peers that left.
In addition to the funding policies, there are state implemented policies that might help increase attendance in the DPS district. In May of 2013, Michigan’s Republican dominated House passed Bill 4388 that would deny welfare benefits to recipients with frequently absent children. The family will not receive family independence program assistance if a child under the age of 16 does not meet public school attendance requirements. If the child is over the age of 16 and does not meet the attendance requirements, he or she will be removed from the assistance program. This proposal would narrow the scope of people able to qualify for a safety net such as welfare. The bill is currently pending action in the Senate as it was referred to the Senate Families, Seniors & Human Services Committee.
According to the bill, parents will need to provide evidence of regular attendance while applying for welfare each year, and school districts will be able to report truant children to the state Human Services Department throughout the year (Matheson). All welfare, such as temporary cash assistance, will be pulled immediately as a result. Several amendments were proposed by Democrats to this bill during the committee phase such as only penalizing the non compliant child or having the state work to resolve attendance issues before completely cutting off funding. Neither of the proposed amendments were passed as a result of the Republican Majority on the committee. The logic behind this policy is that attendance is directly correlated to student achievement, a fact concluded through data from many studies throughout the history of education. Advocates of the bill try to make it clear that this bill is not too harsh; they allow the child in question to be re-enrolled and only need verification of three straight weeks of schooling. Governor Rick Snyder also defended the policy, “It’s just unacceptable for children to be chronically absent. This new policy is one more tool in our toolbox to help children get the education they need.” On the other hand, those affected by the policy argue that it is just another way for the state to take another stab at the poor: “a republican war on the poor”. Parents argued that the bill should allow for some leniency in emergent cases and that the policy only punishes poor families that receive welfare. Judy Putnam, spokeswoman for the Michigan League of Human Services, agrees that we need reform to push children to be in school, but also says that Gov. Snyder needs to focus on a plan that targets all truant students and not just those in struggling families (www.mlive.com).
The powerless and poor will be found at another loss if this policy manages to get past the senate. For Detroit, where 57% of the children come from families living below the poverty line, more than three times the national average, this policy could affect a significant number of struggling families. Nonetheless, it could mean two different things for those affected: it could motivate parents to send their children to school on a more regular basis, or it really could penalize those already in a poor state. In June of 2015, Governor Rick Snyder signed this bill into law; “To break the cycle of poverty, kids need an education to position them for future success. We have to do everything we can to see that they are regularly attending school.”
Dawsey, Chastity. “Detroit Public Schools’ New Policy Seeks To Get Tough On Truancy.” Detroit Free Press
Dawsey, Chastity. "Detroit to Lose 28 More Schools by 2016, Roy Roberts Says." Detroit Free Press.
Jalilevand, Meg. 1 Michigan Education Organization and Finance Research Brief. Citizens Research Council of Michigan
"Mich. Governor Signs Bill Tying Truancy to Assistance." Detroit News. "New Education Policy on the Anvil- Mathrubhumi Education." Mathrubhumi Education.