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The One Item Gov Wants Most Out Of Her ’21 Budget Proposal

February 18, 2020

If Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could be guaranteed one proposal from her Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget proposal that makes it into the Legislature’s final product later this year, it would be her education pitches.

The “weighted formula” for special education, poor and English language learning (ELL) students. The additional $250 per teacher for classroom supplies. The $42 million more for early childhood investment and $5 million to train new literacy coaches.

“There’s a lot of good things in the School Aid Budget and I’m proud of that,” the Governor told City Pulse last week.

Over at the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), officials agreed “there’s a lot of good in the budget.” In particular, they want the special $60 million increase for “economically disadvantaged students,” $60 million more for special education students and $5 million for ELL students written into the “base” School Aid Fund budget as opposed to it being a “one-time” expenditure.

A “weighted formula” — a phrase used by the School Finance Research Collaborative — is designed to address the inherent funding inequities of teaching students with special needs.

Additional money for students in rural areas is also money that could be put into the budget and MASB isn’t opposed to this. Their issue is that the inequities in teaching special populations are addressed.

“The intent would be to put such-and-such percentages behind (these categories) just to hold people’s feet to the fire,” said Jennifer Smith, MASB’s director of government relations. “We know it’s not enforceable year to year, but we should at least put that attempt in there.”

The Legislature put additional money into the FY ’20 budget for economically disadvantaged students, early literacy, English language learners, vocational education and special education students. 

However, lawmakers didn’t use the “weighted formula” phrase to acknowledge the additional expense, Smith said.

“Our base budget is weak. When it comes to funding for need, the base budget is weak,” she said.

House Education Committee Chair Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.) said she’s reading through Whitmer’s proposed K-12 budget now. She wants to make sure districts are treated fairly and that underserved urban areas are treated the same as underserved rural areas.

Based on the Governor’s veto last year of transportation dollars to rural and island school districts, for example, Hornberger is concerned the Governor “isn’t worrying about (rural students) at all.”

“When I taught school in Marine City, the perception was that we were in a nice area with lots of funds,” Hornberger said. “But it was a blue-collar, working-class district with a lot of kids who came from poor families. They flew under the radar. These are often the types of kids who are hurt from these types of proposals.”

Another favorite in Whitmer’s proposed K-12 budget for MASB was $40 million for critical school infrastructure projects. Smith said she understands that isn’t a ton of money, but Michigan is one of only seven states without support for critical infrastructure and this money is a good first step.

“It’s one of the big inequities in our state because a mill in Ann Arbor raises a lot more than a mill in Iron Mountain,” Smith said.

Ideally, MASB would like to see a K-12 budget that at least keeps up with the rate of inflation, which the Governor’s proposal doesn’t do based on the funding rates put in place in 1995 after Proposal A’s passage.

2019 Michigan State University study shows that between 2003 to 2018, the per-pupil foundation allowance increased an average of $26 per year, substantially below the rate of inflation. Since 2003, the basic foundation allowance has fallen by 18.5%, while the minimum foundation declined by 25.6%.

Smith said freeing the School Aid Fund money being used for community colleges and higher education would be helpful. Stopping the chipping away of School Aid Fund revenue through tax changes would be another.

Not including School Aid Fund in the road funding discussion would be helpful, too, she said.

“We keep getting tied into all of these things that we’d like to be removed from,” Smith said. “The School Aid Fund is for schools. We should be able to have a school budget conversation separate from a General Fund conversation.”

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