Dems break with Whitmer, pass small funding increase for Michigan schools

Muskegon classroom

Michigan schools will get a small increase in state funding this year. (Bridge file photo by Ron French)

LANSING – Michigan House Democrats broke with their governor on Thursday and voted to approve a 1.4 percent to 3 percent increase in per-pupil funding for state schools and a small boost in special education money.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expressed disappointment in the bill that passed the House and Senate because it doesn’t address many of her priorities and raises school funding by $136 million less than she’d proposed.

The Democratic governor, in the midst of her first state budget fight with the GOP-controlled Legislature, was left out of the negotiations when talks between her and House Majority Leader Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, broke down last week. 

Instead, Chatfield and House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, came to a final agreement on the school budget Wednesday. Greig and other Democrats broke with Whitmer to support the plan.

“With new revenue sources off the table, we fought extremely hard to get the best budget for our schools with the options made available to us, and in the end developed something that is truly bipartisan,” Grieg said.

As passed by the House on Thursday morning and the Senate Thursday afternoon, the budget would provide $15.2 billion to Michigan public schools, including charter and online schools. 

Per-student funding, which accounts for the majority of state money given to schools, would increase to $8,111 (a 3 percent increase) for schools receiving the minimum per-pupil payment, and to $8,529 (1.4 percent increase) for schools receiving the maximum allowance.

A budget must be approved by Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

You can see a House Fiscal Agency analysis of the budget here.

“I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. This budget is inherently shameful.” 
-- Peter Kudlack, superintendent of Van Buren Public Schools

Michigan students score in the bottom third of the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP, often called “the nation’s report card"). Numerous reports have called for increased school funding to improve academic achievement in the state’s traditional public schools and public charter schools.

 “I'm very proud of the work that we just did in this Legislature and the bipartisan reforms and budget that we just passed for our schools,” said Chatfield after the vote Thursday. 

“I've been saying for the past couple of weeks, that I believe our current impasse on this budget is silly. And we need to come together, we need to show leadership and we need to get a budget passed. What we just did was a bipartisan product, to give our schools the budget that they deserve.”

The school budget year began July 1, and schools have been operating without knowing exactly how much money they’ll be getting from the state. 

Greig cited the uncertainty facing schools when she and Chatfield announced that they’d reached an agreement on a budget that was only slightly different from a budget passed last week by a conference committee.

“This is critically important we take this up as soon as possible and get it to the governor,” Greig said.

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said in a media release that while an additional $30 million in one-time funds for special education is “a move in the right direction,” it is “still nowhere near what the governor proposed in the executive budget, and far short of what our children deserve.”

Highlights of the budget that now heads to Whitmer’s desk:

  • $60 million in additional funding for special education. That’s double the $30 million increase in last week’s conference committee school budget, and is perhaps the biggest change in the two documents. The $60 million increase represents a 2 percent increase for special education services. Whitmer had proposed a 4 percent increase.
  • Money to double the number of early literacy teacher coaches, from 93 to 186. Whitmer has proposed tripling the number of literacy coaches.
  • Virtually flat funding for the Great Start Readiness Program, the state’s free preschool for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. Whitmer had proposed a 34 percent increase and an expansion of eligibility; the Legislature-passed budget has a 2 percent increase and no eligibility expansion.
  •  Online schools will continue to receive the same per-pupil payments as brick-and-mortar schools. Whitmer had proposed decreasing funding to 80 percent of the minimum per-pupil allowance.
  •  In a separate budget bill, the Department of Education was given a 3.4 percent increase.

The school aid budget passed the House, where Democratic and Republican leadership had negotiated changes to the budget, 91-18, with only Democrats voting no. 

It passed in the Senate 21-17.

Republicans who spoke to media after the votes in the House and Senate viewed the budget as the best it could be within the state’s limited funds; Some Democrats viewed the budget as yet another year in which schools will be underfunded.

 “The budget presented today is one based on current revenues and not a $2.5 billion tax increase (a Whitmer proposal to increase gas taxes by 45 cents a gallon) that didn’t have support,” said Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

 “Our schools budget is a key part of an overall budget demonstrating how to invest more in what’s most important to Michigan families without raising their taxes,” said Rep. Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, said the budget is “very distressing,” saying “it’s just not enough money to get our schools to where we all know they need to go.”

Michigan State University education researcher David Arsen said that, even with the 2.7 percent increase in school funding in the Legislative budget, the per-pupil foundation allowance is still down about 25 percent in the past 15 years, when inflation is taken into account as well as funds that are diverted from the school aid fund for higher education.

“This budget will assure that Michigan remains 50th among states in the growth of total and per-pupil school funding since the 2002 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act,” Arsen told Bridge.

“I don't like to criticize people, but I will say at the end of the day, if we're trying to solve the educational crisis in the state and trying to become a top 10 state, this budget was far from getting us there,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing. “I don't think it was worth compromising on.”

Chatfield and Whitmer continued to point fingers for the breakdown in negotiations between the Legislature and the governor’s office.

“If the governor is still unwilling to negotiate with us, we need to continue moving forward,” Chatfield said. “That's what we did today.”

Brown, Whitmer’s spokesperson, took an apparent dig at this weekend’s Mackinac Island Republican Leadership Conference in her statement, saying the GOP is “leaving town today for a weekend getaway on Mackinac Island with Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. 

“While Republicans waste more time on partisan politics, the governor will stay focused on doing her job and working for the people,” Brown said.

Brown said the school budget passed by the House and Senate “is still nowhere near what the governor proposed in the executive budget, and far short of what our children deserve.”

That’s also the view of Peter Kudlak, superintendent of Van Buren Public Schools. “I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut,” Kudlak said. “This budget is inherently shameful.”

Kudlak said he supported Whitmer’s school funding reform that would have given schools more money for students who cost more to educate, such as English language learners, those in special education and children from low-income families.

“We had an opportunity to fundamentally change how we fund schools,” Kudlak said. “The same old, same old budget is getting to the same place we always have gotten to.”

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Comments

Arjay
Fri, 09/20/2019 - 7:48am

If you want to save some money AND improve the environment, stop bussing high schoolers. They don’t use them anyway because riding a school bus is just not cool. At the same time, tell all the parents they can no longer form a huge line of idling cars at the end of the school day waiting to pick their kid up.

Matt
Fri, 09/20/2019 - 10:24am

Child abuse! Your parents made you wait without them at bus stop????

Arjay
Fri, 09/20/2019 - 4:24pm

Yes, and I had to walk over a half mile just to get to the bus stop. None of this picking me up at my driveway. And there wasn't even a shelter for us if it was raining or snowing. And just somehow, we all made it through life, somewhat successful and happily married to the high school sweetie.

Lou
Fri, 09/20/2019 - 9:04am

It is a shameful budget for schools...again. Michigan will never rise from where it is by doing the same thing it always does--pass a budget that just meets or just misses annual inflation rates. Non-partisan study after non-partisan study reveals that Michigan underfunds schools by a massive amount.
Shameful indeed.

Scott Roelofs
Fri, 09/20/2019 - 10:37am

Interesting choice of words: "The Democratic governor....was left out of negotiations....". Everyone knows (and Bridge reported) that Whitmer WALKED AWAY from negotiations because she couldn't get what she wants. Big difference. Whitmer was not "left out.". She abdicated her job's responsibility and refused to participate.

Anna
Tue, 09/24/2019 - 7:32am

One thing I really, really want to know about Gov. Whitmer's (and others) proposals for so-called "equitable" per-student funding in Michigan is how the extra funds for harder-to-educate students would be accounted for in school system budgets.

Right now, state, ISD/RESA and Federal funds designated for special education must, by law, be spent primarily to benefit special education students. The same is true of the Title I Federal funds for students from low-income families, and the Federal contribution towards support services and special classes for English Language Learners. If the state of Michigan gives its school districts extra money in their Foundation Allowance based on the percentage of the student population with those specific high-need attributes, would that extra money flow to the school's general fund, or would it be spent only, or primarily on improving the education of those particular students?

In addition, what would the mechanism be for demonstrating and auditing a student's eligibility for the extra funding? If Michigan's taxpayers give our schools more money, supposedly to serve these disadvantaged students, how can we be sure that most or all of it is spent for those specific purposes? If the extra money goes into a school district's general fund, you can bet that most of it will be spent giving teachers and administrators raises, and reducing general education class size by 1 or 2 students in 28.