Is the Michigan Schools Funding Plan a crime-fighting plan?


(NewsNation) – Does this education equation add up?

Start with one of the boldest (and bipartisan) overhauls of school funding in the United States. Multiply its use by 30 years. Now add the fact that schools are using the money in the right way – like hiring better teachers – and communities are adding money to build better school buildings.

Does all of this equate to lower crime?

It is the premise of a new study on the mid-1990s school funding overhaul in Michigan. Although the study is what is called a ‘working paper’ – meaning it has not yet been peer reviewed – it provides initial evidence that school funding reform has had a significant impact.

It hasn’t just helped poorer districts get better funding. A trio of researchers found evidence that the cascading effect of the plan could create a roadmap for reducing crime rates over time.

More police on the street ‘reduces crime now’, says Joshua M. Hyman, an assistant professor of economics at Amherst College and one of the study’s co-authors. But a good school funding approach, he said, “reduces crime in 20 years.”

It is unlikely that reducing crime was on the minds of the legislators who enacted the reforms. In the summer of 1993, a Democratic state senator from Michigan named Debbie Stabenow – who now sits in the U.S. Senate — proposed an amendment that his rivals widely saw as a political stunt: eliminate property taxes as a source of funding for schools. (Stabenow’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)

His bold proposal was designed to force action on a pair of issues frustrating lawmakers on both sides: high property taxes and unfair school funding.

Like much of America, Michigan has relied heavily on local property taxes to fund school systems. This meant that low-income districts lagged far behind high-income districts in school funding. Reliance on local property taxes also made reforming this system politically difficult, as high-spending districts resisted efforts to reduce property taxes.

“What (the Democrats) didn’t expect was for us to say, ‘Hey, let’s go and pass it,'” said John Engler, a Republican who served as state governor of 1991 to 2003. His party supported the amendment and he signed it in the law in 1993.

The change would have eliminated nearly two-thirds of the state school budget. This forced lawmakers to rush to fix the shortfall before the law took effect a year and a half later. Democratic lawmakers preferred to rely on income taxes to fill the funding gap while Republicans wanted to use a sales tax increase.

In the end, the legislature sent the question to voters with Republican support. Proposal A, a constitutional amendment to, among other things, increase sales and use tax rates in order to fund schools more equitably. When the question hit the polls, 69% of voters supported it.

The New York Times called The Michigan Decision “the nation’s most dramatic change in a century in how public schools are funded.”

After taking effect, Michigan’s new school funding plan enhanced funding for the poorest school districts in the state, helping to close the gap between rich and poor districts; meanwhile, the Michiganders saw a reduction in property taxes.

Reduced crime: an added benefit

Decades later, as communities across the country searched for solutions to rising crime, Hyman and his fellow researchers discovered a hidden benefit of Michigan’s education funding change: less crime.

The work documentpublished in the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that spending more money on school staff and school infrastructure reduced the likelihood that young students attending these schools would be terminated as adults.

After Proposition A was passed, some schools — especially those in lower-income neighborhoods — had more money available to them for operating expenses such as raising teacher salaries or hiring more teachers. administrators. This created a natural experiment to examine the impact of these changes.

Additionally, the researchers looked at districts where proposals to spend new money to improve schools’ physical infrastructure (by raising local taxes), known as capital bonds, narrowly passed. or have failed.

What they found was that a 10% increase in operating expenses resulted in a 15% reduction in the likelihood that a child in kindergarten through grade three would be arrested as an adult.

Meanwhile, children who were in kindergarten when their school district narrowly won an election in the capital, enabling physical improvements to school infrastructure, were 20% less likely to be arrested at school. adulthood.

“We see large reductions in adult arrests among students who have been exposed to more money, whether it’s more operating expenses…or more money for capital expenses,” Hyman said.

Indeed, Michigan has seen a significant reduction in crime from the early 1990s.

According FBI dataMichigan’s violent crime rate has fallen from about 792 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 478 per 100,000 people in 2020.

However, much of the country saw a decrease in violent crime beginning in the 1990s. Why It Happened intensely debated; there were probably many factors involved.

In addition, Michigan’s violent crime rate – like most countries – increased over the past two years. The state’s violent crime rate is also higher than the national average, which was about 399 per 100,000 in 2020.

No reform can solve the social problems of a community. The paper suggests that education reform in Michigan may be a component of the decline in crime in the state.

Hyman and his team suggested that one of the main reasons the extra capital and operating expenses led to fewer adult arrests was reduced absenteeism.

“We saw that the effects on absences seem to be…really critical,” he said, noting that improving school quality seems to have a big impact on increasing attendance rates.

Researchers find that increased spending on education pays for itself by generating savings from less criminal activity – fewer people commit crimes and are incarcerated, saving society a lot of money.

They also find that additional school funding is about as cost-effective as additional police spending.

Using education spending to reduce crime comes with its own set of constraints. Unlike short-term interventions such as increased police numbers and patrols, investments in education take years to show results.

Meanwhile, some education specialists argued this additional school funding alone will not solve all of Michigan’s schools’ problems. Ben DeGrow, who is director of education policy at the right-wing Mackinac Center for Public Policy, applauded Proposal A’s impact on equity in school funding, but also cautioned.

“The benefits decrease over time as you go higher and higher,” he noted, pointing out research he conducted in 2016 showing that there is not always a strong relationship between additional spending and better school results.


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