MI Legislature approves public schools budget

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republican-led Michigan Legislature on Thursday gave final approval to a K-12 budget that would boost base per-student funding for most schools by $240, or 3%.

The House passed the spending bill 91-18, with most Democrats joining all Republicans to support it. The Senate OK’d the measure 21-17, as one Republican and all Democrats lined up in opposition.

It will soon go to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The minimum per-pupil grant, which many districts and charter schools receive, would increase from $7,871 to $8,111. Districts at the higher end would get $8,529, or $120 more than the current $8,409 allotment — a 1.4% bump.

Coming in at more than $15 billion, the school aid budget would spend $387 million more in state money. But that’s still about $136 million less than what Whitmer proposed. Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Democratic House Minority Leader Christine Greig did cut a deal to spend an additional $30 million to reimburse districts for their special education costs, above what had been unveiled by GOP lawmakers last week.

“We understand the House is putting an additional $30 million in one-time funds towards special education. That’s a move in the right direction, but still nowhere near what the governor proposed in the executive budget, and far short of what our children deserve,” a spokesperson for the governor’s office said before the Legislature voted.

Under another change, legislators agreed not to require the closure or reconstitution of a chronically underperforming school that does not improve as part of a “partnership” with the state.

“This budget, when you consider the status quo, funds education at a truly fantastic level,” said Rep. Aaron Miller, a Sturgis Republican. He said it would begin the process of no longer using school aid dollars to fund higher education and also target needs such as special education and at-risk students.

But Rep. Sheryl Kennedy, a Davison Democrat, said the budget falls short. She cited a study that found schools are underfunded by $2,500 per student and a task force’s finding that special education is underfunded by $700 million.

“This budget does not keep up with the cost of inflation or legacy costs, and I do not believe in balancing school budgets on the backs of teacher pensions,” Kennedy said.

A report released this month by the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council said more and more school spending is going to meet unfunded retiree pension and health care costs despite recent changes to the retirement system.

The deadline to enact the budget is Sept. 30. Later Thursday, GOP-controlled conference committees are scheduled to unveil more spending bills covering everything from transportation, prisons, the attorney general’s office and the secretary of state’s office.

Some Republican legislators are headed to the Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island this weekend, where Vice President Mike Pence will be the headline speaker. When they return on Tuesday, they give final passage to the rest of the budget.

Budget talks between Whitmer and Republican leaders broke down last week, even after the sides agreed to table discussions over a long-term road-funding plan. She is leaving open the possibility of vetoing parts of the budget.

—News 8’s Rick Albin contributed to this report.

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