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Whitmer plan to boost funds for neediest K-12 students hits wall in Lansing

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to give more money to Michigan students who have greater needs is in trouble in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid and Department of Education approved a school aid appropriations bill Thursday that didn’t include  Whitmer’s recommendation for a “weighted formula” for school funding.

The Senate previously didn’t include weighted funding in its school aid budget, making the outlook for the reform, pushed by several bipartisan education groups, increasingly dim.

Whitmer proposed a budget in March that recommended an increase of a  half-billion dollars to Michigan public schools, with per-student funding increasing by $180.

While Michigan’s current budgeting system provides equal state funds for all students, Whitmer’s “weighted” plan would provide more dollars in low-income districts or to those students who receive special education services.

Related: Whitmer: Boost Michigan schools by $507 million, with more for neediest students

Whitmer’s March proposal included:

  • $120 million to increase state reimbursement to school districts for special education services. That’s a 4 percent jump.
  • $102 million increase to state support for economically disadvantaged, academically at-risk students, a nearly 20 percent increase. Total state funding is recommended at $619 million for this group of students under Whitmer’s proposal, which will provide an estimated $894 per eligible pupil.
  • $50 million to provide additional career and technical education opportunities for students. That’s an estimated $487 per eligible student. The current spending: about $50 per student.

Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis., chairman of the House subcommittee, told Bridge he would not discount Whitmer’s ideas. “As a former educator, I can support the concept,” Miller said. “If an amount of money is there to make it worthwhile, I’m a supporter of the concept of the weighted formula.”

Sheryl Kennedy, D-Davison, who serves on the subcommittee, said she was disappointed in the vote. The weighted system “provides schools what they need, it aligns with the collaborative research that was done, and if we’re doing anything other than working in that direction, we’re not serving the children of Michigan,” Kennedy said.

A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately return a request for comment.

After the Senate rejected Whitmer’s weighted funding formula in May, Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, who chairs the school aid appropriations subcommittee in the Senate, told The Detroit News that the weighting formula would cause a gap in school funding between downstate and “Up North” schools.

“So first goal is to make sure that all districts have that similar starting, that minimum foundation, then going forward and recognizing some of the differences,” Schmidt told the News.

A differentiated funding formula - providing more money to educate children from low-income families and English language learners, for example - is used in high-achieving states like Minnesota and fast-improving education states like Florida. It’s also a system that has been pushed by education advocacy groups and business and education consortiums that have studied ways to improve Michigan schools.

Related: The real state of Michigan education: improving outcomes costs money

“Michigan’s school funding approach is broken, and a new, fairer approach is needed that serves the unique needs of all students, regardless of their circumstances,” Dr. Randy Liepa, Wayne RESA superintendent, said in a statement released after the House vote.

I encourage lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support Gov. Whitmer’s plan for a weighted funding formula that helps all students succeed, including those who receive special education services and live in our poorest communities.”

Bob McCann, Executive Director, Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, said in a news release, “It’s time to make Michigan’s broken school funding method a thing of the past, and the House K-12 spending plan does nothing to help prepare students for college or careers. I encourage lawmakers to support Gov. Whitmer’s budget proposal, which includes a weighted funding formula that helps all students achieve and succeed in every classroom in every corner of our state.”

Teachers favor a weighted formula - a recent poll of Michigan educators found  six in 10 believed “allocating funding by student needs” would have a “large impact” on learning.

“MASA (Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators) is extremely disappointed that the House budget that was released today does not fiscally support the concept of weighted allocations for special education, career technical education or additional funding for at-risk students as was proposed by the Governor in her budget,” said Chris Wigent, MASA executive director. “The research is clear on the critical importance and impact of weighted funding and we would encourage the legislature to be willing to continue to consider moving from an extremely antiquated education funding system to one that is proven to be effective and in the best interest of students.”

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