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West Michigan school superintendents: public schools key to state's recovery

Empty classroom
Kevin Wong
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Classrooms could get crowded if cuts go through.

Forty-six west Michigan school superintendents have warned state and federal officials that school funding cuts are not acceptable.

In a joint statement released on Wednesday, the superintendents from Muskegon, Kent and Ottawa counties called on the U.S. Congress to quickly take action to provide additional aid for public education. 

They pointed to the precipitous drop in Michigan's revenue during the pandemic. 

"Budget projections released in May documented a loss of $1.2 billion in the school aid fund during the current budget year and similar revenue losses in the next two budget years before the economy is fully restored," read the statement.

"The challenge is we're trying to provide an environment for our kids that we believe is safe," said Doug VanderJagt, superintendent of Hudsonville Public Schools. "But we don't know if we'll have the resources to do it."

"What we're asking for is the federal government to step up like they have done with so many companies," VanderJagt said. "We believe schools need that support also."

VanderJagt said budget cuts, depending on their size, could lead to fewer course offerings, reductions in extracurricular and athletic opportunities, or even school closures.

In their joint statement, the school officials said schools are essential for Michigan's economic recovery, in part because schools are the chief child care providers that allow parents to work.  And they said schools face large additional costs as they work to make education safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement concluded, "We have a simple message for our elected officials: Lansing, we have a problem. Washington, we have a problem. To reopen our economy, and to maintain our economic growth thereafter, you MUST find a way to hold schools harmless."

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.