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Michigan GOP proposes 0.9% funding boost for colleges and universities

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

LANSING –  Michigan’s public universities would get less than a 1 percent increase in funding, and community colleges only slightly more, under a conference committee budget approved Thursday.

That budget would have to be approved by the full House and Senate and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to take effect. Negotiations between GOP legislative leaders and the Democratic governor could alter the higher education budget before Oct. 1, the deadline for the 2019-20 budget to be approved to avoid a government shutdown.

The state’s public universities would get a 0.9 percent increase in funding on average. Michigan State University would see a 0.9 percent increase, University of Michigan, 0.6 percent, and Wayne State, 0.5 percent.

Under the proposed budget, Wayne State would still receive less funding than in 2011, even without adjusting for inflation, said Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor.

Whitmer had recommended a 3 percent increase for public universities, a figure that “would barely let us tread water,” Irwin said. The conference committee’s 0.9 percent increase “leaves them further behind than last year.”

The funding proposal comes after talks broke down between Whitmer and Republicans over her plans to raise gas taxes by 45 cents per gallon to pay for more than $2 billion in roads repairs.

“The governor's budget relied on funds from her proposed gas tax to increase funding for higher education,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

“The Senate and House agreed to a 1 percent increase for higher education. Legislative leaders used available budget dollars to increase spending where possible.”

Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, said that “it’s hypocritical for leaders of the House and Senate to talk about how they value education” and pass a 0.9 percent increase for public universities.

“Everyone talks about the fact we need an educated workforce,” Anthony said. “That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by people in this building having the courage to invest in higher education.”

Sen Kim LaSata, R-St. Joseph, voted for the higher education budget but expressed similar frustration as her Democratic colleagues with a funding hike that doesn’t even keep up with inflation. 

“It’s not adequate,” LaSata said.

As state support for public universities has declined, tuition has risen, LaSata said. 

“It shouldn’t be a political issue (to fund higher education). I’m not on the leadership team, but I always feel like higher ed is at the bottom (of priorities). Whatever money we have left over, we’ll give to higher ed. We can’t keep going this way.”

Michigan is 31st in the nation in the share of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and ranks 44th in per-student state support for higher education.

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