Michigan students of color likely to be in highest poverty schools, report says

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan students of color are more likely to be enrolled in public schools with the highest concentrations of poverty seven decades after the U.S. Supreme Court issued the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision, according to a new report issued on Wednesday.

The Education Trust-Midwest, a non-partisan education advocacy group, issued a new set of findings in its 2024 State of Michigan Education Report, "Brown’s Hope: Fulfilling the Promise in Michigan," ahead of the 70th anniversary on Saturday of the court's landmark decision that signaled the end of legalized racial segregation in schools.

Among the findings in the report:

∎ Nearly half of all Michigan students of color and two-thirds of all Black students attend school in districts with high concentrations of poverty — where 73% or more of the students are economically disadvantaged — compared to 13% of white students in the same districts.

∎ Michigan students in districts with the highest concentrations of poverty are also less likely to be in classrooms with highly experienced teachers who are more likely to be effective on average, the report found.

Officials said school-aged children across the state have lost roughly half of a grade or more in math and reading since the pandemic’s start and in school districts that serve predominantly Black and Latino/a students and students from low-income backgrounds, such as Kalamazoo and Lansing, .

At the current pace of educational recovery, most students would need an additional five years to catch up in math, the report says, and in reading most students would need decades to read on grade level.

The release of the report coincides with called Opportunity for All by education leaders across Michigan to call attention to the needs of Black and Latino/a students and low-income students and to increase their resources and supports, including for post-COVID learning losses.

Alice Thompson, chair of the education committee for the Detroit branch of the NAACP and a chair of the statewide coalition, , issued a call to action for state leaders to invest in these students, who she says have been neglected for decades.

"This new campaign gives hope and a direction for change -- and provides new data to empower local parents and advocates to work together to advance an investment and pandemic recovery agenda for Michigan’s children," Thompson said.

The Michigan Legislature passed a new education funding structure in 2023 called the Opportunity Index to address longstanding inequities but it did not allocate dollars to fully fund the new formula, officials say.

According to a new analysis in the Education Trust-Midwest report, Michigan’s regions that will benefit most by the Opportunity Index funding formula, in respective order, are towns and suburbs, midsized and small cities, rural areas, and finally, large urban areas. The index invests in districts based on their level of concentration of poverty.

Amber Arellano, the Education Trust's executive director and a chair with the statewide coalition, said for decades Michigan did not have a mechanism to address the legacy of racial and socio-economic segregation in the state’s public schools.

"Today, we do — and we have a responsibility to use it," Arellano said. "This month, state legislators can do just that by investing fairly in the state’s new Opportunity Index, a historic new funding change that became law in 2023."

The new campaign includes a to compare how much more a local school district would receive if the state invested in students from low-income backgrounds at the same level as Massachusetts, the nation’s leading education state, ETM officials say.

“This month, state legislators are deciding what to prioritize in the state budget,” Arellano said. “Michigan is underfunding students from low-income backgrounds by at least $2 billion annually. In comparison, today Massachusetts is on track to invest at least $3.3 billion annually in its students from low-income backgrounds. Money matters, especially for low-income students.”

Mike Jandernoa, a west Michigan business leader and a chair of the equity partnership, says there is an urgency to investing in the state's school children.

"For the future of Michigan’s children and the health of our state, state leaders should invest now in students who have been long underserved to address these long-standing inequities," Jandernoa said. "We need to create systems of fiscal transparency and accountability to ensure that the dollars intended for students with the greatest needs actually reach them in their schools."