Michigan’s House and Senate approved spending plans for separate schools this week, kicking off negotiations on whether to cut debt or invest in hiring new teachers and mental health efforts.
House lawmakers passed a $19.9 billion school aid budget on Thursday that increases spending by 15%, pays off pension debt and bars transgender girls from playing on girls’ school sports teams.
The vote was 65-38 with most Republicans in favor and most Democrats opposed.
The Senate adopted its own $17.9 billion school aid budget Wednesday on a 20-15 vote, with no support from Democrats.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer had proposed an $18.4 billion education budget that invests heavily in teacher recruitment and retention, a lower priority for the House and Senate.
It is now up to a bipartisan conference committee to reconcile the disparate plans.
What is clear is that any agreement will increase education spending beyond the current budget of $17 billion. With a recovery of the economya revenue surplusand billions in federal COVID relief, lawmakers see opportunities to reduce taxes and pay down debt, while having enough money to invest in new programs.
Sen. Dale Zorn, a Republican from Onsted, said in a written statement that it was important to provide tax relief to families facing inflation.
Senate Deputy Democratic Whip Rosemary Bayer wants the state to make up for years of underinvestment in schools.
“There are real uses for the money, but there’s a group of Republicans who don’t want to spend it,” said Bayer, of Keego Harbor near Pontiac.
Senate Democrats had sought to cut funding for students in online charter schools, increase funding for students in traditional public schools, and provide $1.5 billion for a teacher retention bonus program Whitmer offered. Republicans rejected those efforts, but authorized an amendment that would provide $6 million for mental health support, safety and structural repairs to Oxford High School, where a gun-toting student was killed. killed four people and injured seven last year.
The House budget would increase base funding per student by $300 to $9,000. The Senate version is asking for $9,150 per student. The governor’s proposal falls between the two at $9,135 but exempts online schools from the increase.
The House bill also adds a $1.7 billion payment to reduce the state’s $33.7 billion unfunded pension liability in Michigan’s public school employee retirement system.
Democrats prefer to direct that money towards investments in special education, teacher recruitment and funding for at-risk students such as English language learners and economically disadvantaged children.
The House budget “simply does not provide the support for Michigan’s children, Michigan’s teachers, Michigan’s schools and Michigan’s future needs,” Rep. Regina Weiss of Oak Park told the House Thursday.
“When we fail to fund our public school system, we all suffer,” she added.
Previously, House Republicans pushed back against his attempt to remove language requiring public school districts to ban transgender girls from playing on women’s sports teams. Weiss said the requirement would force schools to discriminate, shame and single out students in ways that encourage bullying.
Republicans say it’s about fairness and opportunity for cisgender women.
State Representative Brad Paquette, a Republican from Niles who sponsored the school budget bill, framed the argument in religious terms. “An individual God created as a boy has distinct physical advantages over an individual God created as a girl,” he said. Paquette is Vice Chairman of the House Education Committee and Chairman of the School Aid and Michigan Department of Education Budget Subcommittee.
The school aid budget is part of a larger expense package the House and Senate this week passed funding for state agencies in the state’s next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Administrators are hoping for an agreement on the school aid budget much sooner in order to have certainty before July 1, the start of the fiscal year for school districts.
Many changes are expected before the final version reaches Whitmer’s desk.
“A budget is a statement of priorities – and this budget plan prioritizes educating children, improving our economy and supporting families struggling with rising costs,” said the appropriations chairman of the Senate, Jim Stamas, a Republican from Midland.
To press conference In Grand Rapids on Thursday, State Superintendent Michael Rice told reporters he hoped for a compromise that would increase funding for English language learners and economically disadvantaged students, whose educational needs are higher than those of other students. He also wants the legislature to fund the governor’s proposals for retention bonuses and infrastructure improvements.
Note: This story has been updated to correct Senator Dale Zorn’s city of residence.
Michigan Budget Plan Comparison
|Governor’s proposal||house budget||Senate Budget|
|Increases basic state funding, known as the Base Allocation, from $8,700 per student to $9,135 per student, but excludes cyber schools from the increase.||Increases base stipend to $9,000 per student.||Increases base stipend to $9,150 per student.|
|Providing $150 million to mid-tier districts in partnership with the TRAILS (Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students) program, which helps students with mental health. The current budget allocates $5.4 million.||Does not fund TRAILS.||Provides $10 million for TRAILS.|
|Provides $171 million in state support for local district infrastructure and capital projects.||Not included.||Not included.|
|Increases funding for the Great Start Readiness Program by $435 per student, for a total of $9,135 per student.||Retains current expenditures of $8,700 per student.||Retains current expenditures of $8,700 per student.|
|Increases the amount the state reimburses districts for special education costs from 31% to 36%.||Increases Special Education Reimbursement Rate to 38%||Does not increase the reimbursement rate.|
|Invests $1.5 billion in retention bonuses for teachers and staff who keep their jobs. Also investing $150 million in scholarship, tuition reimbursement and mentoring programs for new teachers.||Invests $529 million in teacher recruitment and retention efforts, including scholarships for education majors, compensation for student teachers, and support for personal development programs that provide pathways for support staff and high school students to become educators.||Provides $25 million in scholarships for education majors.|