Senator warns of potential 25% cut in Michigan school funds

Michigan
michigan capitol building lansing

(File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A lawmaker warned Tuesday of a potential 25% cut in state funding for K-12 schools because of economic fallout from the pandemic, saying he is not “banking” on Congress sending additional aid to states or giving flexibility to use previously passed rescue money.

Sen. Wayne Schmidt, a Republican who chairs the Senate’s education budget subcommittee, said 25% is “certainly the high end,” but that schools should brace for the worst in the next fiscal year. About 40% of the $14 billion in state revenues for the school aid fund comes from sales tax collections.

“There’s no way around it. There’s going to be cuts to the per-pupil foundation,” Schmidt said.

The base per-student grant for most districts is $8,111 in the current budget. Schools currently are closed at least until August, except for distance learning.

School officials disagreed that K-12 cuts are unavoidable. The state is receiving $3 billion in federal assistance to combat the coronavirus, though it cannot use the money to offset billions of revenue lost due to the economic downturn. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has issued stay-at-home orders, is pressing for such flexibility. Also, the Democratic-led U.S. House on Tuesday unveiled a $3 trillion-plus coronavirus relief bill that includes $500 billion for states to help prevent layoffs of public workers, cuts to services or tax hikes.

Mark Greathead, superintendent of the Woodhaven-Brownstown School District outside Detroit, said suggesting a 25% cut “is simply ignoring the realities that we are facing and would likely result in a number of districts being unable to reopen at all.”

Greathead is president of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, which represents superintendents in metro Detroit. The group is working with the congressional delegation and state legislators on a plan to invest in schools and ensure they can reopen safely to students in the fall, he said.

Nonpartisan legislative economists and top officials in Whitmer’s administration will meet Friday to receive an economic forecast and come to a consensus on revenues. The state budget office has projected a possible shortfall of up to $3 billion this fiscal year and up to $4 billion next budget year, which begins in October.

Schmidt cautioned that his outlook is preliminary, and revenue figures will become clearer over the summer. “But (I’m) trying to give superintendents an idea of where their budgets should be,” he said.

Asked if the federal government should give Michigan additional flexibility to use coronavirus relief aid to fill budget holes, Schmidt said: “Well, I’m not banking on that because who knows what Congress is going to do.”

DEATHS

The state health department on Tuesday reported 90 additional COVID-19 deaths, 19 of which occurred days or weeks earlier. Nearly 4,700 have died. About 1,400 people were in the hospital.

MASS

The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit said priests can resume public Mass on May 19 if they choose. All parishes will resume Mass by May 29. Churches cannot exceed 25% of capacity to keep congregants in masks at least 6 feet apart.

“The Mass you may attend in the weeks ahead will look and feel quite different from the Mass you remember from two months ago. … The pandemic is not over and safety precautions must be followed in order to promote the continued health and safety of everyone in our community,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron said.

ANOTHER LAWSUIT

The conservative Mackinac Center Legal Foundation helped file the latest lawsuit challenging restrictions that prohibit many in-person business operations, though Whitmer has gradually allowed some work to resume. The suit in federal court was brought on behalf of three medical practices that allege they cannot provide necessary care and a patient who says he cannot have knee replacement surgery because of an order restricting nonessential procedures.

The state said last week that hospitals and physicians have “broad discretion” to decide whether to continue delaying procedures.

CASINOS

Revenue at Detroit’s three casinos was down 39%, or $192 million, through the first four months of the year. They closed in mid-March. The casinos paid the state $15.6 million less in gambling taxes than the same period last year. Wagering taxes and development agreement payments to Detroit were down $23 million.

Associated Press writers Ed White in Detroit and Corey Williams in West Bloomfield contributed to this report.

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