LANSING, Mich. — Michigan House Republicans on Wednesday proposed a $3.5 billion coronavirus recovery plan but threatened to withhold billions to K-12 schools unless Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cedes her administration’s power to prohibit in-person instruction and sports to local health departments.
The state health department in November ordered a temporary ban on face-to-face learning in high schools to help curb a surge in COVID-19 cases, lifting it later. A prohibition on youth contact sports remains.
“Some Michigan school districts haven’t had in-person classes since March. That’s hurting kids in ways we can’t even imagine, and not just academically,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert, a Lowell Republican, said in a statement. “The disruption of sports and other extracurricular activities also takes a major toll.”
By law, K-12 districts and charter schools decide whether to allow in-person classes. Although the Democratic governor has strongly urged schools to offer a face-to-face learning option by March 1, House Republicans want to entice public schools by offering up to $250 per student in funding if they commit to reopening by Feb. 15.
The proposal came a week after Whitmer sent the Republican-controlled Legislature a $5.6 billion relief plan that would use recently enacted federal aid and state funds. She planned to highlight her proposal in her annual State of the State address Wednesday night.
The dueling plans have similarities, including another round of grants to help restaurants and other businesses devastated by the pandemic and related virus restrictions.
The governor proposes quickly allocating $90 million in federal aid designated for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Albert instead wants an initial $22 million distributed, with the rest held in reserve until needed. The GOP plan would not fund Whitmer’s proposed renewal of an expired tax incentives program that was used to lure large-scale business expansions.
Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the governor was pleased to see GOP lawmakers embrace elements of her plan such as vaccine distribution, support for small businesses and getting kids back into classrooms, but added “this is not the time for partisan games.”
K-12 administrators said they appreciated Republicans’ recognition of additional costs facing schools due to pandemic, but they criticized linking funding to a bid to let local officials, not the state, decide about school and sports restrictions.
“Federal dollars for learning should not be used as a bargaining chip,” said Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators. “A bipartisan vote of Congress sent $1.6 billion in aid to Michigan schools, and district leaders need that money to be appropriated now — without caveat or consideration of politics.”