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R's Pass 2.4% Increase In School Aid; Roughly 1% For Colleges, U's

R's Pass 2.4% Increase In School Aid; Roughly 1% For Colleges, U's

Republican-dominated conference committees Thursday passed out slender spending increases for pubic K-12 schools, community colleges and universities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 amid Democratic concerns that R's were prioritizing roads ahead of school children.

The $15.2 billion School Aid Fund budget that moved out of conference committee does spend a record amount of at least $8,529 per pupil, which equals Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's funding request from March.

However, HB 4242 spends $165.9 million less than Whitmer's proposal and doesn't rely as heavily on Whitmer's "weighted formula" that put much more money into special education, the poor and career tech.

Republican leaders also gave higher education a net .9% increase over last year and community colleges roughly a 1% increase.

It's an increase, but these sub-inflationary increases are making college less affordable and more "out of reach for kids who don't come from wealthy families," said Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).

"How many times are we going to claim credit for the sunrise -- that the budget is bigger than it was the year before, but our community colleges and higher education institutions keep getting hammered?" Irwin asked.

Republicans heralded the budgets as living within the state's means, while setting aside an additional $500 million in the FY '20 budget for roads without raising taxes. Whitmer counted on raising $2.5 billion from her 45-cent-a-gallong gas tax increase to free up enough money so nothing from the School Aid Fund would be used to cover the $1.685 billion Higher Education budget.

Republicans used $150 million less from FY '19, but still counted on $350 million from the SAF for payments to the state's 15 universities.

The three budgets -- K-12, community colleges and higher education -- moved Thursday afternoon on party-line votes, but Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland) left open the possibility that they could be reopened pending an up-to-now elusive agreement with the Governor.

"We're looking forward -- at some point -- to working with the administration," Stamas said. "As we progress, it gets a little bit more challenging, but the Senate has always maintained moving on time with a budget and I encourage the leaders and the Governor to continue talking and come to some consensus with where we go."

Asked if these spending plans could change, Stamas said, "Budgets are always a proposal and an authorization so there are ways to continue to change them."

School Aid Budget

The $15.2 billion School Aid Fund budget continues to fund cyber schools at 100% of the per-pupil school allowance as opposed to Whitmer's suggested 80%. It includes an extra $30.2 million for special education, a quarter of the $120 million Whitmer had wanted.

Another $5 million is going into "at-risk" schools as opposed to the $102 million Whitmer had wanted and another $5 million for career and technical education (CTE) training, as opposed to the $55 million in the Governor's budget.

The conference report on HB 4242 did spend $13.5 million on CTE equipment upgrades and $10 million for school safety grants, however, which were not in Whitmer's budget.

Another $5 million was kicked in for early childhood education. Whitmer wanted $84 million. The Legislature didn't set aside $24.5 million for literacy coaches, as the Governor wanted. They put in $14 million more, but they did set aside $15 million for a one-time summer school reading grant program.

"We'd love to do more, but maintaining a balanced budget that is structurally sound across the board for all provides the priority," Stamas said.

Rep. Kristy Pagan (D-Canton) hit Republicans for allegedly packing the budget with "sweetheart deals" for specific vendors and private schools as opposed to spending it on those in need of the most help.

According to the School Finance Research Collaborative, Michigan lawmakers missed an "unprecedented opportunity to help prepare all K-12 students for success."

"I'm disappointed lawmakers have rejected a new approach to school funding that invests in the success of every Michigan student, whether that means college, technical training, apprenticeships or jobs right after graduation," said Jim Stapleton, president and CEO of B&R Consultants. "What is particularly disappointing is the future of our state's children should not be subject to partisan politics. I strongly urge the Legislature to support a weighted school funding approach that helps prepare every Michigan student for the modern workforce."

Higher Education

Wayne State University (WSU) will still not have the same level of state funding it did in the FY 2011 budget under the FY 2020 plan that moved out of conference committee.

HB 4236 spends $1.685 billion on the 15 universities, .9% more than the year before, but the funding formula used to spread out that increase means WSU will receive a .5% increase, the lowest percentage among the schools.

The highest increase of 2.7% is going to Lake Superior State University. Central Michigan is getting 2.1% more. Whitmer had requested a 3% increase for higher education.

Sen. Kim LaSata (R-St. Joseph), chair of the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said she felt the conference committee did the best with the targets she was given, but conceded that higher education is not state government's highest priority right now in the eyes of decision makers.

"I'm not in the leadership team, but I feel higher education is at the bottom of the priority list right now," she said.

LaSata may be in the minority of lawmakers who believe more state funding for universities should come from the School Aid Fund.

Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities agreed that college affordability and investment in the workforce remain "low priorities."

"Today’s conference committee proposal assures we will continue falling behind other states in college affordability, less affluent students will take out more student loans, and we will discourage some middle-class students from getting degrees needed to retain and attract employers," he said.

Community College

Equally discouraged was Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, which saw most colleges receive state funding increases at 1% or less.

He said he appreciates the spending pressures lawmakers feel, but Michigan isn't going to make the strides it could in closing the "skills gap" with 1% increases in the investment going to community colleges.

SB 0134 ends up spending $408.2 million from the School Aid Fund to community college. No General Fund was spent in this budget.

It did include $785,000 to make up a shortfall in the Native American Tuition Waiver.

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