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Opinion | State Superintendent pushes funding for urgent education needs

The new state Legislature has gotten out of the gate quickly and is on track for a very impactful first 100 days. In many ways, it is an optimistic moment. That said, an education budget supplemental with the following components needs to be part of the legislature’s first 100 days of work.

Dr. Michael Rice
Dr. Michael Rice is the Michigan State Superintendent.

Great Start Readiness Program expansion

To facilitate the expansion of the state’s preschool program for four-year-old children, the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), for which the governor and Legislature negotiated $202 million in the last two state budgets, the legislature needs to provide more flexibility to incentivize GSRP programs to expand their instructional weeks from four days to five and their instructional years from 30 weeks to 36-38 weeks. We also need to expand GSRP transportation and incentivize and accelerate the development of GSRP teaching staff. 

School districts need this legislative flexibility immediately, given that the spring is the ideal time not simply for kindergarten student round-up, but also for pre-kindergarten student round-up. Increasingly, school begins at the age of 4.  Parents are looking into schools now for their children for next school year. Help us help them with more flexibility. Pass a budget supplemental.

MI Kids Back on Track

The governor’s executive budget recommendation calls for $300 million for the MI Kids Back on Track program to provide tutors for those children who have substantial unfinished learning in the wake of the pandemic. We need to lean into tutoring and other small-group supports. If school districts know now that they have this funding secured, they can support children this spring and summer as they develop or more likely embellish their supports of children, and by fall the programs will be more fleshed out. 

If districts have to wait until the passage of next year’s budget in June and the governor’s signature in July for a budget that goes into effect in October, children won’t begin to benefit from these funds until mid/late fall. Help us serve better those children who have substantial unfinished learning. Pass a budget supplemental.

Free meals for all children 

The governor’s executive budget recommendation also calls for $160 million to help provide school meals for all children. Free meals help to ensure that fewer children are hungry, more children are healthy and more children are able to focus on their schoolwork. Through a supplemental, schools can be better prepared for the menu planning and additional food orders needed, can bring on more staff and can ensure effective communication with families. Help us feed more children and improve student achievement at the same time. Pass a budget supplemental.

MI Climate Plan/Healthy Schools Grant Program

The governor’s executive budget recommendation calls for $300 million for the MI Climate Plan/Healthy Schools Grant Program to improve air and water quality in schools. As we emerge from a pandemic, replacing outdated heating and ventilation systems with more modern heating, ventilation and cooling systems, with more frequent air exchanges and addressing issues of lead and asbestos should be a priority. To have these funds appropriated in the early spring allows capital work on schools to be designed in the summer, district requests for bids and requests for proposals to be put out in the fall and contracts awarded in the winter, with work taking place in the summer of 2024.

Waiting to approve this important program in the FY 24 budget means that funds wouldn’t be available until the fall, with a diminished likelihood of summer 2024 projects and a greater likelihood these projects slip to the summer of 2025. Help us improve air and water quality in schools for students and staff. Pass a budget supplemental.

A little more than a decade ago, the Legislature began to approve budgets in June, at the time a major improvement for schools over the late summer budget passage. Now, the legislature needs to raise the bar again, to pass certain elements of the budget earlier so that they can benefit students more in the coming months….rather than in the coming years.

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