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Whitmer Signs Record Breaking Education Budget with No Line Item Vetoes

July 25, 2023

Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog e-newsletter

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a $24.3 billion budget Thursday for preK-12 schools, universities and community colleges, without making a single line-item veto. Instead, she highlighted what Democrats agreed on, like fourth grade field trips to state parks, K-12 transportation funding, free breakfast, indigenous reporting requirements and more.

Whitmer was joined at Suttons Bay Senior High School early Thursday afternoon by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton), House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), Appropriations Chair Angela Witwer (D-Lansing), Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park) and Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City). Ahead of signing SB 173 inside of the Northern Michigan school, the governor expressed that the budget would improve life for students, families and teachers across the state.

She focused on line items that “improve the student experience” in more ways than just “the highest per pupil funding in state history,” along with a total increase of 22% since she first took office in 2019.

Whitmer called attention to the new requirement that school districts or intermediate school districts must collect and submit tribal affiliation data for all students and staff, along with identification of participation in federal American Indian Education programs, to the Center for Educational Performance and Information.

The requirement comes with an additional $3 million in School Aid funding for costs associated with reporting student data to tribal governments and reporting students’ participation in federal American Indian programs, part of a total $41 million pot for data collection costs required under Adair v. State of Michigan.

She said the funding provides both Indigenous students and educators the opportunity to identify their tribal affiliation as part of their demographic data “to help us better support Native students’ access and secure additional federal resources.”

“This is a long overdue change, and I’m really proud we got it done in this bill,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer also promoted the Nature Awaits program, an initiative MIRS found was not included in the education omnibus, but the Department of Natural Resources budget in the general omnibus, HB 4437, which is yet to be signed.

The program appropriates $8 million from the General Fund and almost 14 full-time positions to cover transportation and other costs to get all Michigan fourth graders to visit a state park.

Whitmer said the program will allow students to “get outside and see what makes our state so special.”

She also discussed the new 2023 requirement that Michigan eighth-grade students complete a half-credit course in personal finance.

For the benefits the budget will have on families, Whitmer again honed in on the free breakfast and lunch – funded by $100 million from the School Aid Fund and $60 million from a School Meals Reserve Fund.

“We thought this was a no-brainer, and we’re one of the first states to do it,” Whitmer said, citing Michigan as the seventh state to enact a similar policy. “It helps our kids focus in class and lowers costs for families.”

Whitmer, along with Camilleri, additionally spoke about the $90.9 million expansion of the Great Start Readiness preschool program for 4-year-old children in low-income families, which Whitmer said is a step closer to free pre-K for all “by the end of my term.”

When it came to benefiting districts, Whitmer, Camilleri and Coffia all zoomed in on the $125 million to establish a School Transportation Fund – a proposal originating from the House.

The funding will be allocated to districts based on a formula grouping them into quartiles based on riders per square mile, distributing funding equal to the median transportation cost per rider for that quartile or the district’s actual transportation costs per student, whichever is less.

Moreover, Whitmer highlighted the $125 million in School Aid Fund dollars for American-made low or no greenhouse gas emission school buses, along with charging stations and alternative fuel vehicles.

The switch will cut down on road noise, reduce asthma rates and cut down on fueling costs, Whitmer said.

Another spotlight was placed on a brand new School Aid Rainy Day Fund constructed within the budget through an initial $450 million deposit from the School Aid Fund.

Whitmer said the fund can serve as protection if “there are challenges on the horizon… so that we can shore up the retirement of teachers and staff and never… at the cost of the in-school education of our kids.”

Outside of the budget’s objectives to improve the pre-K-12 learning experience, Whitmer further described how SB 173 supports teachers in the form of future educator programs, like the MI Future Educator Fellowship Program that deploys $25 million to offset tuition costs for college students earning their initial teacher certification. The program does not include nonpublic schools among the list of eligible workplaces where recipients must pledge to work after graduation.

Another $50 million from the School Aid Fund will go to public and private higher education institutions to provide student teachers with payment.

“Of course, Michiganders are paying attention,” Whitmer said, “but I want anyone outside of Michigan who’s a teacher to know, maybe you should come to Michigan and make your life in Michigan, because we value your work.”

Whitmer said her vision is ambitious, but achievable – to make Michigan the best state to become a teacher.

“That’s our goal, because when we do that, we get the best educated kids,” she said.

Beyond certain teacher programs, Whitmer spoke about the increased $2.2 billion in university funding, along with $544 million from the School Aid Fund for community colleges.

“I want every parent in Michigan to know from the day your child enters pre-K to the day they walk across the graduation stage after high school, we will have their backs,” Whitmer said.

But despite the apparent agreement between Whitmer and legislative Democrats on the finalized budget, Republicans weren’t all as pleased.

The House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Kalamazoo) said the thick budget is too much pork and not enough sustainable spending, referencing $2 billion in new projects found within the K-12 portion of the “school bus” that weren’t seen the previous year.

“Michigan children who’ve struggled to learn to read won’t get much comfort from the fact that Democrats put pet projects, powered by a tax hike, over students’ academics,” Hall said. “While Republicans called for our state to invest resources to boost classroom learning, Democrats squeezed $2 billion for pork and new programs into the school budget.”

Hall said the additions could have provided an additional $1,360 for every Michigan student.

“For example, instead of providing an additional $84 per student, the Democrats spent $125 million on green buses that simply don’t work for expansive rural communities,” Hall said.

But the State Superintendent Michael Rice described SB 173 as a significant step forward in beginning to address the state’s teacher shortage, as well as in making school funding more equitable.

“In the 30 years since Proposal A to change the school funding system, Michigan hasn’t had two years of back-to-back funding increases close to FY23 and FY24,” he said.

Overall, Rice said Michigan is not done yet.

“The state can’t make up for multi-billion dollar underfunding in education… and it will take time for us to address the adverse impact on human and financial resources and to build an education budget and system that fully supports our children,” he said.

In addition to the 5% per-pupil increase in the state’s foundation allowance, he highlighted the additional Great Start Readiness funding, free breakfast and lunch, transportation reimbursement, and tutoring for kids behind in reading and math.

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