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Truth Squad | Gretchen Whitmer says she’s fought two governors on school aid

October 2018: Truth Squad | Ads unfairly attack Whitmer on healthcare, missed votes
August 2018 update: Gretchen Whitmer wins Democratic primary for Michigan governor

Endorsed by the Michigan Education Association, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer continues to stake a claim as champion of teachers and public education. The former state senator argues for more funding to raise teacher salaries and for universal preschool. And she’s repeatedly said the state needs to stop taking money from the school aid fund for any use beyond K-12 schools, adding that she’s taken on two governors to try and halt such raids. It’s that last claim that Truth Squad analyzes today. We find her statements to be ACCURATE.

The claim:

One June 3, Whitmer Tweeted a video that said: “When governors from both parties tried to take money out of the school aid fund I took them on.”

She also said in a radio interview: “They’re taking $650 million to backfill the general fund and another $100 million is being siphoned off into legislative pet projects.”

The facts:

Michigan’s economy was still a wreck – unemployment 12.1 percent – in the summer of 2010, as Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm sought ways to plug a $300 million hole in the state budget. She proposed an unprecedented move, to send $208 million from the school aid fund to help boost community colleges. The fund – about $12.6 billion for 2017-18 – is the primary source of funding for Michigan school districts, comprising about 87 percent of revenues. Until then, it had been traditionally used just for K-12 education – even though the constitution says the school aid fund can also be used for “higher education.” Funding for higher education had until then come from the general fund.

Related: Turning Gretchen Whitmer into Granholm, a Republican gamble in governor race

Granholm’s proposal was approved by the Legislature, but Whitmer, a fellow Democrat, voted against it in the Senate, where she served from 2007 through 2014.

That was by no means the last time revenue from the school aid fund went to uses other than K-12 schools. According to the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency, the school aid fund has sent more than $3.6 billion to community colleges and higher education from fiscal 2010 through fiscal 2017-18, including $636.6 million in fiscal 2017-18. That amount rises to more than $900 million in fiscal 2018-19.

The record says Whitmer voted against every budget that sent school aid fund money to community colleges or higher education. She did so for budgets for 2011-12 and 2012-13 which, according to the Senate Fiscal agency, sent more than $850 million from the school aid fund to community colleges and universities. Whitmer was likewise a no vote in 2013-14, and again in 2014-15.

In 2011, Whitmer – then Senate Minority Leader – spoke out against GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to divert nearly $900 million from the school aid fund to community colleges and universities, stating: "The governor is creating a crisis that doesn't exist. There is no reason we have to cut our schools.”

As for her claim that $100 million is being siphoned from the fund to “legislative pet projects,” Whitmer spokesman Zack Pohl referred Truth Squad to a budget document for 2017-18 detailing $105 million devoted to more targeted school programs ‒ though it should be noted this money remained within K-12 schools, including $40 million for cyber schools, $8 million for court-placed pupils, $5 million for “isolated district transportation funding” and $1.5 million for a youth program for the Marshall Public Schools.

Adding this $105 million to the $636.6 million directed to higher education from the school aid fund in the 2017-2018 budget nearly totals the $750 million Whitmer said the state could have used for traditional K-12 school funding.

“Sen. Whitmer is not saying every categorical lacks value, but rather that they take away from Michigan making larger foundation allowance (the amount the state grants to individual school districts per-pupil) increases every year,” said Pohl, her spokesman.

Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer’s steadfast record of opposing school aid money for community colleges and higher education is clear. She spoke out and voted against using any of that money for anything other than K-12 schools – in the process opposing governors Granholm and Snyder.

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