Detroit Bribes Students to Boost School Attendance

Public school districts across Michigan mobilized Wednesday to boost attendance for Count Day, the annual fall roll call that largely determines how much money each district receives under the state's per-pupil funding system.

Students in Detroit were treated to free meals, ice-cream parties, T-shirts, celebrity visits and a chance to win iPods and a plasma-screen TV — just for showing up for class.

Districts received an average of $7,810 per student last year, but that could decline by more than $200 a pupil this year as Michigan looks to close a $1.7 billion budget hole. Every student in class Wednesday represented funding for the school year.

The stakes were especially high for the Detroit Public Schools, where Wednesday's carnival atmosphere masked grim financial realities. Enrollment has plummeted roughly 50 percent in the past decade, contributing to a $259 million deficit this year that has put the district on the brink of bankruptcy.

The results of the count will serve as the first report card for Robert C. Bobb, the district's state-appointed emergency financial manager, who is hoping to stave off bankruptcy and stabilize enrollment. Detroit schools this summer launched a $500,000 campaign aimed at keeping students that included ads by Bill Cosby.

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