Whitmer signs $17B schools budget boosting childcare spending, closing district funding gap

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed the largest School Aid budget in Michigan history Tuesday, totaling $17.1 billion, which hits a longtime goal of eliminating the funding gap between districts.

“As we look to the next school year and beyond, we know that every student deserves to be funded at the same level to ensure an equal opportunity to succeed, and I am proud to say that we are able to do that today,” Whitmer said in Kentwood. “The funding provided to our schools today marks the end of a 27-year journey to close the gap between our districts. This equalized funding will improve the quality of educational opportunities for schools and students across the state and set a solid foundation for which to build our future.” 

The School Aid budget is the first budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 to make it to the governor’s desk, despite a 2019 law that requires lawmakers to send Whitmer a plan by July 1.

“I’m hopeful that the Legislature, when they do come back … I hope that they will get some more budgets done,” Whitmer said. “I would like to see that happen quickly. The quicker the better.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs the FY 2022 School Aid budget, July 13, 2021 | Whitmer office photo

The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The House and Senate could come back in session this week.

House Bill 4411 includes $723 million to eliminate the gap between the minimum and maximum foundation allowance by setting both at $8,700 per pupil.

This is an increase of $589 per pupil from the current year minimum amount and an increase of $171 per pupil from the current year target amount. 

Closing the funding gap between schools has been a goal for many leaders since Proposal A was passed in 1994, changing the way schools are funded. 

“When you think about it, we’ve been chasing this goal longer than any of these students have been alive,” Whitmer said.

Another key piece in the School Aid budget is the increase of funding for the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), the state-funded preschool program for 4-year-old children.

The School Aid budget includes $168.5 million for GRSP, including $121 million in federal funding and $47.5 million from the School Aid Fund, which will increase full-day per child allocation from $7,250 to $8,700.

“Before today, 22,000 Michigan kids were eligible for the program but could not be served due to a lack of funds. That’s no more as of today,” Whitmer said. 

GOP-led Legislature passes last-minute schools budget, puts other funding on ice, despite deadline

Other key pieces of the budget include: 

  • $240 million over 3 years for additional hirings in high-need districts for school counselors, psychologists, nurses, and social workers
  • An increase of $17 million to support school-based mental health programming
  • $74.2 million for special education
  • Incentivizes districts to adopt a year-round school calendar by helping to provide for HVAC and infrastructure improvements through an investment of $75 million in federal funding to provide matching grants and $60 million from the School Aid Fund to increase foundation allowances for eligible districts by 3% for three years. 
  • $11.5 million for benchmark assessments. 
  • $10 million to support school safety initiatives
  • Increases support for children impacted by the Flint water crisis by $2.4 million

The School Aid budget has received bipartisan support from lobbyists and lawmakers.

Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12 and Michigan Department of Education, joined Whitmer in Kentwood Tuesday and said the bill “levels the playing field for all Michigan students.”

House passes bipartisan budget with record-high school funding

“This historic K-12 funding gives our schools the resources they need to make transformational improvements in learning and help Michigan students recover after more than a year of enormous challenges,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland). “After nearly 30 years, we’re finally achieving the goal of closing the gap between the highest and lowest funded school districts and ensuring all our children have the support they need to succeed.”

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan, applauded the bipartisanship that went into negotiating the School Aid budget. 

“This is what we get when both sides of the aisle work hard to find common ground,” Hecker said. “This is what we get when Democrats and Republicans say ‘What do our students need? Now let’s get it done.’”

Last week, Whitmer signed House Bill 4421, which appropriates $4.4 billion in federal COVID-19 relief to K-12 schools for the current year, Fiscal Year 2021.

“Twelve months ago, the Revenue Estimating Conference said we were going to see a $3 billion deficit. The reality is that we’ve got a $3.5 billion surplus. This is an opportunity, but we have to be strategic and disciplined,” Whitmer said. “And as I think about the investments that we need to make, certainly there are a number of things that come to mind, but the education of our young people is the most important investment.”