Michigan Legislature approves budget for public schools
By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press
LANSING, Sept. 19, 2019 (AP): The Republican-led Michigan
Legislature gave final approval Thursday to a K-12 budget that
would boost base per-student aid for most schools by $240, or
3%, which supporters lauded as record funding and some Democrats
said would not keep pace with costs in an underfunded system.
The $15.2 billion measure will soon go to Democratic Gov.
Gretchen Whitmer, who said it would spend ``far short of
what our children deserve.'' She is likely to sign the bill,
though, so schools are funded.
This is the first time in a decade that districts and charter
schools have not known their state aid is by July, the beginning
of their fiscal year—the byproduct of protracted budget
negotiations in an era of divided government. Also Thursday,
lawmakers began advancing a $5.4 billion transportation budget
that would include the use of $468 million in income tax revenue
required under 2015 and 2018 laws, and $400 million in general
funds for road and bridge repairs—a net 7% funding increase.
The minimum per-pupil grant, which most schools receive, would
increase from $7,871 to $8,111 under the legislation that
cleared the House and Senate on 91-18 and 21-17 votes. Districts
at the higher end would get $8,529, or $120 more than the
current $8,409 allotment—a 1.4% bump.
The school aid budget would have $387 million more in state
money, or 3%, about $136 million less than what Whitmer
proposed. Schools getting the minimum base amount would get a
bigger increase than Whitmer proposed, but they would not see
significant boosts in funding for at-risk or career and
technical education students, as she proposed.
Districts' reimbursements for special education would rise by 2
percentage points, or $60 million _ half of what her plan
``This budget, when you consider the status quo, funds education
at a truly fantastic level,'' said Rep. Aaron Miller, a
Sturgis Republican. He said it would begin the process of no
longer using school aid dollars to fund higher education and
target certain areas such as special education.
But Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing _ the top
Democrat on the Senate budget committee _ criticized GOP
lawmakers for touting ``record'' spending on schools, likening
it to a legislative ``participation medal'' because tax revenue
routinely rises due to inflation.
``This is largely a status quo budget. It's basically an
inflationary increase. It doesn't do much more than that,'' he
said, citing how the state's students are ``floundering'' when
compared with other Midwest states and nationally.
Sen. Wayne Schmidt,
a Traverse City Republican, countered that the budget ``is one
based on current revenues and not a $2.5 billion tax increase
that didn't have support.''
Whitmer's K-12 proposal was partly linked to a 45-cents-a-gallon
fuel tax increase—now dead—that would have increased spending on
deteriorating roads and bridges while also freeing up money for
Democrats were divided over the school budget. Every Democratic
senator voted against it, while 33 of 52 House Democrats voted
for it after House Minority Leader Christine Greig cut a
deal with House Speaker Lee Chatfield to spend $30
million more to reimburse districts for their special education
``With new revenue sources off the table, we fought extremely
hard to get the best budget for our schools with the options
made available to us, and in the end developed something that is
truly bipartisan,'' Greig said.
But other Democrats said the spending would not keep up with
inflation or the rising cost of pension benefits.
``At the end of the day, if we're trying to solve the
educational crisis in the state and trying to become a top 10
state, this budget is far from getting us there,'' Hertel said
when asked about House Democrats striking the deal. ``But I will
say that at I don't think it was worth compromising on, no.''
Budget talks between Whitmer and Republican leaders broke down
last week, even after the sides agreed to table discussions over
a long-term road-funding plan. The Legislature is planning to
approve non-K-12 spending measures next week. She may veto parts
of the budget.
The deadline is Sept. 30.
A big sticking point is short-term road spending.
Whitmer and Democrats oppose using $400 million in general
funds—a routine practice in recent years, but one they say is a
Band-Aid approach that effectively hurts other spending,
including on education.
``A little bit more isn't helpful and it's not enough to solve
any of the problems. It's just enough to make people more and
more frustrated,'' said Sen. Adam Hollier, a Detroit
Democrat who voted against the transportation budget that
cleared a conference committee on party lines.
But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas,
a Midland Republican, said roads must be prioritized in the
coming budget while Whitmer and GOP leaders search for a
``Yes, this is one-time funding for this year. But it continues
to make sure that we're making that investment that the people
of Michigan have asked us for,'' he said.