Percentage of Special Education Students Higher in Urban, Rural Districts in Southeastern Michigan

In the state of Michigan, 13.3 percent, or about 206,000 students, were considered to be Special Education students for the 2014-2015 school year. Many urban and rural districts had a higher percentage of special education students than their suburban counterparts in Southeastern Michigan. However, according to a 2014 Bridge article, special education designations vary from district-to-district; it comes down to a very local decision.

According to the state of Michigan there are 13 disability types that may cause a student to be considered a special education. These disability types are:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Cognitive Impairment
  • Deaf-Blindness
  • Early Childhood Development Delay
  • Emotional Impairment
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Physical Impairment
  • Severe Multiple Impairment
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech and Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment
  • Other Health Impairments

At the county level (which is represented by data provided for the county intermediate school district or regional education service agencies), the St. Clair County Regional Education Agency had the highest percentage of special education students at 14 percent and the Livingston Education Service Agency had the lowest at 12 percent.

SEMI Special Education1

Of the 100 public school districts in Southeastern Michigan, Mount Clemens School District had the highest percentage of special education students during the 2014-2015 school year at 26.5%. In Macomb County, 36 percent of the school districts had a higher percentage of special education students than the state average of 13.3 percent. Macomb and Oakland counties each had eight school districts with a percentage of special education students that was higher than the state average. It was St. Clair County though that had the highest percentage of public school districts with a higher percentage of special education students over the state average. Of the seven public school districts in St. Clair County four had more than 13.3 percent of its student body designated as special education. Capac Community Schools had the highest percentage in the county at 17 percent.

In Wayne County, the Wyandotte School District had the highest percentage of special education students at 24.7 percent. The Detroit Public Schools had 18.2 percent of its student body categorized as special needs during the 2014-2015. The Wayne County public school districts that had a higher percentage of special education students than the Detroit Public Schools were:

  • Garden City Public Schools (18.8%)
  • Redford Union Schools (19.9%)
  • Southgate Community School District (18.9%)

Below are the public school districts in each county, not already discussed, with the highest percentage of special education students

  • Monroe County- Jefferson Public Schools (15%)
  • Oakland County- Pontiac Public Schools (19.2%)
  • Washtenaw County- Whitmore Lake Public School District (21.1%)

Southeastern Michigan Special Education

While special education designations remain a local decision, Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley recently called for special education reform, including “breaking down the walls between general education and special education” and creating a multi-tied system of support that is centered around the philosophy that each student is unique. Calley said he doesn’t want a child’s education to be tied to their diagnosis, but rather their specific needs. For more on this click here.

Part III: Metro-Detroit Region Working Toward Wide Spread Transit

In our last two posts we discussed several regional authorities that governments and voters in Southeast Michigan have approved, especially in the wake of Detroit’s financial problems. In this post, we will consider regional efforts to coordinate and fund mass transportation in the area. Transportation planning in Metro-Detroit has long been a fragmented issue. Currently, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), which was created through Public Act 387 of 2012, is placing the finishing touches on its Regional Master Plan. This plan is to include main transportation routes along Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues, along with connector lines going east to west throughout Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. It is these four counties that the RTA encompasses and, in order to have sufficient funding for a robust regional transportation system, the RTA is expected to put a ballot initiative before the voters of these four counties (Detroit included) asking for a yet-to-be-determined amount of funding through a millage. According to Public Act 387 of 2012, the RTA can receive money through voter approved millage funding and/or an additional fee that may accompany state driver registration fees. Ballot initiatives can only be placed on ballots during presidential or gubernatorial elections.

Decisions on how and when to seek public funding are made through the RTA’s Board of Directors. This is a 10-member Board, with each Board member serving three-year terms. The County Executives of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties each appoint two board members, the Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners appoints two members, the Mayor of Detroit appoints one member and the Governor appoints one member. The Governor’s appointee serves as chair but does not vote, according to the RTA’s website.

Prior to the establishment of the RTA, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART) was created in 1967, and it still operates in portions of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Up until recently, SMART did not coordinate with the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT), and because of the way SMART initiatives can be placed on the county ballots (by individual counties), Macomb County is the only county in which all communities support the suburban transit authority and are all thereby affected by the authority’s ballot initiatives. In Oakland and Wayne counties, communities have the option to “opt-out” of supporting the authority.

The percentage of opt-out communities as of February 2015 was as follows:

  • Wayne County: 38.6%
  • Oakland County: 57.6%
  • Macomb County: 0%



Most recently, the County Board of Commissioners in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties placed a 4-year 1 mill request for the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART) on the ballot in August of 2014. The 1 mill request, which included an increase from the original 0.59 mills, was approved throughout the tri-county region as follows:

  • Wayne County: 63.45% yes
  • Oakland County: 73.6% yes
  • Macomb County: 59.6% yes


While SMART, RTA, DDOT and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) are now expected to coordinate with one another, it has taken about 100 years for the region to develop even a semblance of a coordinated regional transit system.


Starting with streetcars in the early 1900s, Southeastern Michigan once had the largest transportation system in the country, according to Tobi Voigt of the Detroit Historical Society in a 2015 Detroit Free Press article. Although the streetcars were once nearly all privately owned, in 1922 the voters of Detroit voted to buy the streetcars, lines and all other materials that made them operational at a cost of $19.8 million. Having bought an aging system, and then with the Great Depression and World War II, the once vibrant streetcar system could no longer be maintained with the funds the city had. The aging infrastructure, however, did not deter people from using the system. According to Voigt, during World War II ridership actually doubled because of widespread difficulty in obtaining gas, tires and vehicles during World War II.


While World War II meant increased ridership, post-World War II meant the beginning of a more developed highway system and more wealth to afford vehicles. These societal changes lead to the retirement of Detroit’s last streetcar on April 8, 1956.


Following streetcars came busses, a mode of transportation still used today. Similar to today’s operations, the DDOT (formerly the Detroit Department of Street Railways) attempted to coordinate with a regional entity—then called the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA). Created by the Michigan Legislature in 1967, SEMTA was intended to provide service to the seven county region. However, SEMTA did not have the authority to ask voters for operating funds. This, combined with decreasing ridership and President Ronald Reagan’s decision to cut federal funding to regional transit authorities in 1985, caused SEMTA to cut down to bare bones operations. By 1989, SEMTA became SMART, an authority with the power to seek millage funding.


With its 2012 creation, the RTA is now the entity charged with coordinating and planning for public transportation in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties; applying for state and federal transportation dollars; and dispersing those dollars to the appropriate entities.


Despite the RTA’s status as the “official” regional transportation authority, collaboration between it, SMART, DDOT and the AATA is expected to take place so truly robust, connected and coordinated system can exist.


Regionalism never strongly existed in the Metro-Detroit area until the financial downfall of Detroit began, and even though we are now seeing a surge in regional coordination, the coordination between those regional entities remains fragmented.



Part II: Regional Water Authority Sets Terms for the Next 40 Years

In our last post, we examined some of the regional authorities in Southeast Michigan. In this post we will continue that discussion by considering the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). Like the Detroit Zoo Authorities, the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority, and the Detroit Institute of Arts authorities, the GLWA is a regional entity created in response to Detroit’s financial crisis. In October of 2014, the GLWA was approved by Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties’ Board of Commissioners and on Jan. 1, 2016 the regional authority became fully operational. In addition to creating the authority, the county boards’ approval allowed the GLWA to lease water and sewer infrastructure from the city of Detroit for 40 years at a cost of $50 million a year. The GLWA is made up of six members: two appointed by the Mayor of Detroit, one each by Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, and one by the Governor from the service area outside the three counties. A county can leave the authority if it meets the criteria below:

    • Two-third majority vote by the Board of Commissioners to leave
    • Unanimous vote by GLWA, excluding the county wishing to leave
    • Payment of all financial obligations
    • Water and Sewer services may continue via contract

While the GLWA has no tax power, it does have bonding power, according to its articles of incorporation. This power provides the regional entity the ability to bond for improvements to the water/sewer infrastructure within its service area. Debt service for improvements to the city of Detroit’s system is the responsibility of the city though, according to the articles of incorporation. The lease money paid to the city though can be used for water and sewer improvements on Detroit Water and Sewer Department (DWSD) infrastructure.

The approval of the GLWA also means that all former DSWD wholesale customers (127, 75% of which are in the tri-county area), with the exception of the city of Detroit, are now customers of the Great Lakes Water Authority, according to a statement released by the authority. While other water authorities/commissions are highlighted in the map below, these too are connected into the GLWA system.

The Detroit/GLWA system consists of:

  • 640 miles of large water and sewer pipes
  • Five water treatment facilities
  • One major sewage treatment plant

Within this system, Detroit is to remain in control of its 3,000 miles of local sewer pipes and 3,400 miles of local water mains serving the neighborhoods of Detroit.

In addition, of the 1,400 DWSD employees, about 900 employees are to become GLWA employees, according to the GLWA Articles of Incorporation.