Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pitches 9 percent boost in Michigan school spending
- Gov. Whitmer’s budget proposal includes expanding pre-K, making school meals free and higher per pupil spending
- She would also increase the amount districts receive for special education students
- Her education proposals must be approved by the Legislature, which has narrow Democratic majorities
LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new education budget proposal features a boost in per pupil funding for public schools, a new tutoring program and a broad expansion of state-funded preschool.
The proposal, made public Wednesday, would draw on $18 billion from the School Aid Fund, $74 million from the state’s general fund and $991 million in supplemental, one-time funding for fiscal year 2023. Altogether, it amounts to a 9 percent increase in state school aid spending over last year’s budget, which education leaders had hailed as a “generational” investment.
“This budget builds on the Get MI Kids Back on Track plan, which offers every student individual tutoring, after-school support and other personalized learning supports,” Whitmer told reporters after she presented her budget to lawmakers. “There are resources geared toward improving classroom experiences, increasing compensation for educators and investing in what kids need,” she added.
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The governor’s spending request comes amid a record $9 billion state surplus including $4 billion in the School Aid Fund.
It’s part of Whitmer’s fifth state budget, but the first she has presented to a Legislature controlled by her own party.
The proposed education budget also includes a $160 million plan to make school breakfast and lunch free for all students. Additionally, there is $1 million to forgive debts related to the meals.
"We know that kids struggle to learn when they are also struggling with hunger, and ensuring that not a single student in our state has to go to school and face that reality is one of the best investments we can possibly make," said Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, which represents 123 school districts in the state.
Budget calls for more preschool expansion
Whitmer wants to offer free preschool to every 4-year-old in Michigan within four years. Her budget takes a step in that direction, asking lawmakers to invest an additional $306 million in the state’s Great Start Readiness Program.
The money would allow thousands more children to enroll, expand the program from four to five days a week and boost individual student funding by 5 percent, to $9,608 per student, the same as K-12 funding. GSRP funding drew even with K-12 for the first time last year.
Recent expansions of the program have been slowed by teacher shortages, exacerbated by disparities in pay. The $20,000 pay gap between teachers in Michigan’s state-funded preschool program and K-3 teachers is among the largest in the U.S.
“Right now it’s really hard to find staff,” said Amerra Macki, director of A & W Day Care Center, which operates four GSRP classrooms in Detroit. “I would love to see more money so we can hire more people.”
To draw more educators into early education, Whitmer is asking lawmakers for $50 million to assess the problem, expand training programs and boost recruitment efforts.
Her preschool proposal also includes grants to help new GSRP classrooms open and to help existing programs expand.
Whitmer wants some of this funding to be approved quickly in a supplemental budget bill rather than waiting for the resolution of the state budgeting process, which won’t conclude until summer at the earliest. Among the proposals is $18 million to expand a pilot preschool program for 3-year-olds.
Budget offers $100 million for teacher recruitment
Districts continue to struggle with a shortage of educators at all grade levels.
To help alleviate that, Whitmer is calling for continued investment in the MI Future Educator program created last year. It provides scholarships of up to $10,000 per year for education majors and stipends of up to $9,600 per semester for student-teachers. Whitmer budgeted $100 million for the program, up from the current $75 million.
Whitmer revives tutoring plan to mitigate learning loss
Whitmer will try again to roll out a comprehensive statewide tutoring program. Last year, Republicans rebuffed her $280 million proposal for individualized tutoring but agreed to $52 million in grants that districts could use for tutoring.
Whitmer is resurrecting that proposal and requesting the state pass a supplemental spending package before spring break that includes $300 million for tutoring.
She first proposed the program after a media collaborative including Chalkbeat, Bridge Michigan and the Detroit Free Press reported that Michigan, unlike other states, had not provided funding or a structure for a coordinated tutoring program.
Republicans had pushed for providing $1,000 per pupil in grants that parents could use for private tutoring and instruction, but Whitmer vetoed that plan in 2021. A different tutoring proposal led by Republicans did not pass out of the House last year.
Per pupil funding would increase
Whitmer is proposing that the state raise the base per pupil funding for public schools from $9,150 to $9,608 per student.
She recommends that fully online schools be funded at $7,687 per pupil.
For students who receive special education, schools currently receive 75 percent of the per pupil allowance in addition to required cost reimbursements. Whitmer’s proposal would increase that rate to 87.5 percent while keeping the cost reimbursement portion.
Literacy and mental health would get more resources
Whitmer’s budget proposal also includes several other spending items, including:
- $42 million for literacy coaches at intermediate school districts
- $1.2 million for 10 new regional early literacy hubs
- $94 million to the Detroit Public Schools Community District for literacy programs; the dollar amount was part of the settlement of a literacy lawsuit that alleged the state denied Detroit students a right to a basic education.
- $4 million to get students books and other literacy materials using the Dolly Parton Imagination Library
- $300 million for literacy professional development
- $300 million for school mental-health staffing and programming to be spent over two years.
The next fiscal year begins Oct. 1, but lawmakers typically try to pass the school aid budget by the end of June, because school district fiscal years begin on July 1.
Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Isabel Lohman covers education for Bridge Michigan. Reach her at email@example.com
Koby Levin is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering K-12 schools and early childhood education. Contact Koby at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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