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Michigan schools would get 2.4 percent hike in GOP budget plan

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

In a proposed budget that appears to be a compromise between the Republican-controlled House and Senate ‒ but spurns the education priorities of Michigan’s Democratic governor ‒ a conference committee recommended a 2.4 percent increase in public school funding Thursday.

That’s between the 2.7 percent hike initially approved by the Senate and a 1.4 percent increase from the House, but $166 million short of the 3.5 percent bump sought by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

If approved by the House and Senate and signed by Whitmer, the school aid fund for 2019-20 would be $15.2 billion.

Whitmer, who campaigned on the promise to improve Michigan’s struggling public schools, didn’t get as much as she wanted in next year’s state education budget. At least, not yet. Her highly touted funding formula that would give extra money for the education of low-income and other vulnerable children, similar to formulas used in states with high-performing schools, was, in most cases, diminished. 

She requested an additional $102 million in state funding for economically disadvantaged students, and got $30 million. Her request for a 34 percent increase for taxpayer-supported preschool was cut to a 2 percent bump.

A few other Whitmer priorities survived: additional funding for early literacy programs and career tech. The Republican plan also added $10 million for support of English language learners that Whitmer didn’t include in her proposal. 

The fact that Whitmer’s priorities received short shrift may be attributed to the fact that negotiations between the governor’s office and GOP legislative leaders broke down on Wednesday, the latest of several dustups with between the sides. A budget must be approved before Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

While the conference committee budget passed along party lines on Thursday, it could be amended in the coming weeks if and when negotiations between the executive and legislative branches resume.

In the conference committee’s version of the school aid budget, per-student funding given to schools from the state would increase between $120 and $240 under the budget. The minimum per-student would increase from $7,871 to $8,111 (a 3 percent increase) and the state maximum guaranteed foundation allowance would increase from $8,409 to $8,529 (1.4 percent).

The conference committee budget can be seen here

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.

“A 2.4 percent increase is inadequate for what we need for our kids, and (the funding) is not equitable,” said Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills. “Our children deserve better.”

Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, defended the plan, saying it was a school budget that “lives within its means.”

Notable in the budget:

  • A $5 million increase in funding for the Great Start Readiness preschool program for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families, which would raise its budget to $250 million. That’s a 2 percent increase. Whitmer had recommended a 34 percent increase.
  • $14 million for literacy coaches, which is projected to double the number of literacy coaches funded by the state to 186; and $10 million for summer early literacy intervention.
  • $10 million for school safety grants, in part, to “harden” schools against potential mass shootings.
  • $4 million for early intervention efforts for preschool children in Flint.
  • Eliminating $25-per-pupil funding for high school students that has been given to schools in the past to reflect the higher costs associated with high schools.

Whitmer’s school budget proposal would shift funding toward a “weighted formula” that would provide more money for students who typically take more school resources to succeed, such as children from low-income families, those in special education and those enrolled in career tech programs. That’s how school funding works in academically high-performing states such as Minnesota and fast-improving states like Florida.

That proposal wasn’t included in GOP budget plans in the House or Senate, or in Thursday’s conference committee budget.

Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, co-chair of the conference committee, argued that the Republican budget plan was in fact weighted because it provides additional funding for services to help groups such as English language learners.

The director of the School Finance Research Collaborative, a group that has advocated for increased and more targeted school funding, wasn’t buying it.

“It’s unfortunate Michigan lawmakers have decided to continue the current broken school funding approach that keeps our schools among the lowest-performing in the nation and creates hurdles for our kids as they prepare for college or jobs,” Robert McCann of SFRC said in a statement after the hearing. 

“While this budget thankfully calls for increased funding for programs such as special education and English Language Learner instruction, it falls short of the investment needed to truly meet the unique needs of every student.”

Brian Gutman, director of external relations for Education Trust-Midwest, an education nonprofit that advocates for vulnerable students, said in a statement after the hearing that the conference committee’s budget plan “makes progress for across-the-board spending,” but “much more must be done, however, to ensure low-income families, students with disabilities and other historically underserved groups are being supported and taught to succeed at high levels.”

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