KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed into law the state’s $17.1 billion K-12 budget, calling it the biggest ever education budget in Michigan and touting the “historic milestone” of eliminating the per-pupil funding gap.

The budget for the upcoming fiscal year represents an overall spending increase of 10%. It expands state-funded preschool to every 4-year-old in Michigan; includes $240 million for “wraparound services” to hire more school nurses, social workers and counselors; adds $90 million for special education; backs online math courses, earmarks $54 million for mental health programs and suicide prevention; and directs $155 million to support students who need extra help reading.

But the “headliner,” Whitmer said at a bill signing event at East Kentwood High School, is that the budget finally wipes out the per-pupil funding gap between districts.

“This budget invests $723 million to ensure that every school has the same baseline funding of $8,700 per pupil — and that is a huge win,” she said. “This has been the goal on our books since 1994, as I mentioned, nearly 30 years ago. We’re doing it this year and it is phenomenal. When you think about it, we’ve been chasing this goal longer than  any of these students have been alive. Today, we’re going to realize it.”

She said that money can fund more teachers and other staff, new textbooks and better equipment and facilities.

But she also said that the equal funding does not mean equity and said that students with increased need should have additional funding.

The Republican-led Michigan Legislature approved the schools budget in late June.

“This really was a team effort,” Whitmer, a Democrat, said. “A team effort that is going to benefit a million Michigan kids and their families, and their teachers and their parapros and their bus drivers… This is a really good day.”

Whitmer thanked Kentwood Public Schools for hosting the bill signing. She was joined at the bill signing by East Kentwood High School Principal Omar Bakri, student Keanta Simeneta, district Superintendent Kevin Polston, teacher Caitlin Volovlek and teachers unions leaders Paula Herbart and David Hecker.

Last week, the governor signed a separate spending measure directing $4.4 billion from federal coronavirus relief to K-12 schools for the current fiscal year. That money will be distributed based on student need.

“Each of these investments in our kids and schools will help us continue our economic jump-start,” Whitmer said. “Every policy that we are pursuing right now is laser-focused on helping us emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever, for everyone.”

The governor also urged the Legislature to pass the rest of the state’s budget bills that have still have to be negotiated. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

—News 8 political reporter Rick Albin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.