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Whitmer: Tap Michigan’s budget surplus to boost K-12, pre-K, mental health

cash and crayons
The state’s schools and pre-K program would get extra cash under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal. (Shutterstock)

Michigan would spend millions to get more mental health professionals in K-12 schools. Teachers and other school workers would get thousands in bonuses. And the state’s flagship free preschool program would get a big expansion.

That’s the vision Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will take to lawmakers Wednesday when she lays out a spending plan that is heavy on helping schools overcome the struggles of the pandemic, address teacher shortages that have crippled schools during COVID, and help retain and recruit school staff. Her proposal comes weeks after economists predicted a $5.8 billion state surplus.



Whitmer is expected to call for $18.4 billion in education spending as part of the 2022-23 state budget, according to a summary of education spending provided by her office. That would be a 7.6% increase over the current fiscal year’s education budget.

The big winners, under Whitmer’s plans: 

  • School workers, who would receive bonuses of $2,000 this year, with even more in subsequent years. 
  • Mental health. The governor would invest heavily in mental health professionals to staff school health clinics, and would expand a mental health program for schools.
  • Students from low-income homes, and students with special education needs. Whitmer would invest millions more to help schools better serve their needs.
  • Prospective teachers. The governor would create a $250 million fund to create scholarships for individuals pursuing teacher certification in grades preK-12, plus $50 million in scholarships for graduate programs for school leaders and mental health professionals. Scholarship recipients would have to give two years of service in schools for each year of scholarship.
  • The state’s youngest students. Whitmer would further expand free state preschool to serve more students.

While the surplus puts the state in a good financial position, it doesn’t mean the Republican-controlled Legislature is likely to go along with the Democratic governor’s election-year budget goals. Their support will be key to Whitmer’s proposals moving forward.

“We’ve got to be very careful about inserting things into the budget that could lead to ongoing expenses,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told WTVB Monday morning. He promised a “rigorous give and take” during budget negotiations in the coming weeks.

Pieces of Whitmer’s proposal likely will spark bipartisan agreements, said Jonathan Hanson, a lecturer in the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

But the surplus, coupled with billions of dollars in federal COVID relief money for schools, sets up an interesting political dynamic, Hanson said.

“It creates this temporary flexibility in the budget and the parties want to do different things with that. The Republicans are eager to bring in some tax cuts for corporations and for individuals that certainly right now are easily manageable, but would be risky down the road,” Hanson said.

Democrats are interested in spending on “education and other areas to make some investments that might not fit within the budget constraints of a typical year. That’s the main divide.”

Meanwhile, with Whitmer up for reelection this year, Hanson said Republicans likely aren’t willing to give her a big political win.

Whitmer’s budget would provide base funding of $9,135 for every student in the state, a 5 percent increase. Additionally, it would provide $222 million more to support economically disadvantaged students and $150 million more for special education.

“It really shows a recognition that the kids that need the extra assistance the most are getting some prioritization here, while at the same time recognizing that districts as a whole need funding,” said Don Wotruba, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Whitmer also has budgeted $30.8 million for vocational education and career and technical education, and $5.3 million for intermediate districts.

Her spending plan includes $2.3 billion over four years on teacher recruitment and retention. That includes providing $2,000 retention bonuses to every school staff member this fall, and another $2,000 in fall of 2023. Teachers and certified staff would get an additional $3,000 in 2024 and $4,000 in 2025, according to Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy.

Whitmer also plans to propose stipends for student teachers, who currently aren’t guaranteed pay, grants to help districts hire and train staff, and education fellowships for college for those pursuing education careers.

She also proposes increasing spending for the Great Start Readiness Program, Michigan’s free, high-quality preschool program for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.

Funding for the program increased by 67 percent last year thanks to federal COVID relief funds, helping to open 84 classrooms in Detroit alone.

But those federal dollars are set to run out within two years. Advocates said Whitmer’s proposal would use state funds to help make the recent expansion permanent.

“The expansion is really propped up by federal funds, and we want to make sure we're not getting a couple of years down the road here and having to look at budget cuts,” said Michael Latvis, senior executive director of legislative affairs for Wayne RESA, an education agency that distributes state preschool funding in Wayne County, which includes Detroit.

The state has expanded preschool for decades with bipartisan support. Experts rank it among the best preschool programs in the country because of its strict training requirements for staff and long track record of preparing students for kindergarten.

Whitmer’s preschool proposal also includes $30 million to help open new classrooms and $5 million to pilot a home-based preschool program.

Whitmer also has budgeted $50 million for before- and after-school programs that provide extracurricular activities and accelerate learning.


Whitmer proposes investing $361 million in student mental health, including hiring hundreds more school mental health professionals, building on the 720 nurses, counselors, and social workers hired with new money in the current budget, according to her office. In part, they would staff 40 new school-based clinics serving the needs of 20,000 students.

The spending plan also calls for an expansion of the Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students (TRAILS) program. Run by the University of Michigan in partnership with schools, the program uses mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy to address symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Michigan’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1, but the Legislature normally aims to pass the education part of the budget before July 1, the start of the fiscal year for school districts.

Bridge Michigan writer Isabel Lohman and Chalkbeat staff writers Koby Levin and Lori Higgins contributed.

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