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Listen Tuesdays at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on 90.5 WKAR-FMAccording to the Kids Count report of April 2018, 56% of third graders in Michigan are not proficient in English Language Arts. At the same time, some new public school teachers in Michigan are leaving the classroom because they do not earn enough money for a decent living. Virtual and charter schools are on the rise in Michigan. And in some communities there are breakthroughs in raising better readers.Covering education in Michigan is complex, but WKAR is committed to reporting on the problems, searching for solutions, and holding leaders accountable.Listen for Making The Grade in Michigan with WKAR education reporter Kevin Lavery every Tuesday at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on 90.5 WKAR-FM's Morning Edition.

MI School Aid Budget Inches Closer Towards Final Approval

picture of the Michigan Capitol Building
A joint legislative conference committee approved the GOP version of the K-12 education budget on Sept. 12.


The Michigan School Aid budget is a step closer to completion.  A state legislative conference committee has approved a more than $15 billion plan that now moves to the full House and Senate.


A key moment that budget watchers had been waiting for all summer finally arrived last Thursday at the Capitol.


With a strike of the gavel, Republican House Appropriations Committee vice chair Aaron Miller welcomed those who’d come to find out how much money Michigan public schools would get if the GOP has its way.


“I know many of you in the room have been very patient and many of you in the room have been not so patient,” Miller said.  “We appreciate both.  We appreciate your passion for education and for what is going to be in this budget.”


The joint House and Senate conference committee plan includes a $304 million foundation allowance.  That translates into a three percent increase in the minimum amount spent per pupil.  It’s more than what Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer called for in her formula.  


But GOP leaders didn’t give the governor the so-called “weighted” funding increases she championed for at-risk, special education and career and technical education students.  


Committee member Kristy Pagan (D-Canton) pressed Miller for an explanation.


“Could you just explain a little bit further why do believe there’s a weighted formula when there clearly is not?” she inquired.


“There is in that we’re taking many of the items that the governor had in her weighted formula and we are adding additional funding to those items for what is a weighted formula,” Miller replied.


Items like isolated districts, Miller said.  The committee plan, he explained, gives small rural schools another $1 million and expands the per pupil formula in certain cases.


“So it depends on what you want to call it,” Miller continued.  “But yeah…we’re representing many of the items in that study in that budget.”


Some items came in well below the governor’s vision. 


Whitmer proposed an $84 million increase for the Great Start Readiness Program, Michigan’s pre-K curriculum for at-risk children.  The committee authorized just $5 million more, but granted funding for an MSU study that will measure how well Great Start prepares kids for kindergarten.


Pagan took issue with the allocation for pre-K, listing it among her reasons why she would be abstaining from the final vote.


“This is not the best budget to put forward for our kids, for our teachers, for our parents, for our communities,” Pagan said.  “This is is not the direction that we should be going in when it comes to educating and funding our schools.” 


In the end, the K-12 budget passed along party lines.


Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) was asked if he foresaw lawmakers striking a deal with the governor before the final budget deadline. 


“As we progress, it gets a little more challenging as we go,” Stamas said.  “But the Senate has always maintained moving forward on time with a budget. And I encourage the leaders and the governor to continue to talk and come to some consensus on where we go with budget.”


The 2020 budget must be signed by October 1, or else the state risks a partial government shutdown. 


The next two weeks will be critical. 


This week, layoff notices are going out to some state employees…a standard precaution should Governor Whitmer and the Legislature come to an impasse.








Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
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