(AP/FOX 47 NEWS) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed a supplemental spending bill that releases $4.4 billion in federal coronavirus rescue funding designated for K-12 schools.
The bill eliminates a longstanding base per-student funding gap among districts and boost overall funding by a substantial 10%.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the type of investment in our schools that will put Michigan students and educators first as they head into the next school year,” Whitmer said in a release. “Our actions today prove that Republicans and Democrats in Lansing can work together to enact budgets that are laser-focused on helping Michigan take full advantage of the unprecedented opportunity we have right now to make transformative investments in our schools that will have positive impacts for generations.”
Many education officials called it a historic bill, providing certainty to districts whose fiscal years begin last Thursday.
Budgets for state departments and funding for universities, community colleges and local governments will wait, potentially until September, despite a 2019 law requiring that they also be sent to the governor before Friday. The state fiscal year does not start until Oct. 1.
Traditional districts and charter schools will receive $8,700 in base per-student state aid, not including at least $1,093 more per pupil in federal funding from a rescue package signed by President Joe Biden in March. The state grant will rise by $589, or 7%, for the vast majority of districts. Those at the higher end will get an additional $171, a 2% increase.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican, said the state has been working to remove the discrepancy for more than 26 years since school funding was overhauled by voters.
“I’m excited that we’re able to make sure to get our education funded,” he told reporters, saying the $8,700 grant “is a great place for them to go into their school year starting on July 1st working on their budget. I think that’s a positive.”
“This is a great bipartisan effort to have the largest investment in education in Michigan’s history,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, the top Democrat on the Senate budget panel. “I’m really proud of the work that the governor did to get here and I was proud to support it.”
Legislators embraced Whitmer’s revised proposal to expand state-funded preschool to 22,000 eligible but unenrolled 4-year-olds and to raise the amount allotted per child.
They added $240 million to hire additional school nurses and counselors and $155 million for Grand Valley State University to disburse up to $1,000 each to K-5 students who are not proficient in reading. The scholarship could be used for instructional materials, tutoring, summer and afterschool programming.
“The goal of this program is to provide as many good options to parents as humanly possible,” said Sen. Lana Theis, a Brighton Republican who cited learning loss as kids went to school online in the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers also included $135 million for districts with a year-round, or “balanced,” calendar. A supplemental bill that was passed last week and the newly approved K-12 measure will release to schools an extra $4.7 billion in designated U.S. coronavirus funds.
Teachers unions and charter school advocates applauded passage of the budget, and called the equalization of base funding a major step forward. Superintendents also were pleased.
“Educators now have the funding and guidance they need to get to work on what truly matters: supporting the needs of each and every student as we work to remediate the challenges brought on by the pandemic and set our students up for success in the coming year and beyond,” said Ken Gutman, superintendent of Walled Lake Consolidated Schools and president of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan.
Also Wednesday, both chambers overwhelming passed competing spending bills that would, among other things, immediately use federal COVID-19 relief aid to help hospitals and nursing homes facing pandemic-related financial struggles. But the proposed payments are on hold amid budget discussions that will continue over the summer, including over how to spend $6.5 billion in discretionary U.S. coronavirus funding.
Whitmer welcomed the school budget’s completion but noted legislators missed the deadline to pass the rest of the budget. They adjourned and appear unlikely to meet much before September.
“I am hopeful that the Legislature will work quickly to approve a state budget that supports small businesses, fixes our crumbling roads and bridges, expands access to childcare and grows our economy,” she said in a statement.