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Proposed state school aid budget hailed as potentially "transformative"

Lester Graham

Some education leaders and advocates believe the Michigan Legislature’s proposed budget for the upcoming school year has the potential to transform public education in the state.

There are two school aid bills, one pending in the state House, and one just passed bythe Senate as part of a larger budget package. There are some significant differences between them, but also some major overlap.

Bob McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, said that includes some measures educators and school districts have long sought. “They’re taking a look forward at what schools are going to need not just this year, but two, three, four, a generation down the line, and starting to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together,” he said.

Both bills would raise the foundation allowance—the amount of money each school district gets per student—though the Senate bill would bump it up slightly more, to $9,700. Both also include more significant funding boosts for special education and at-risk students.

The 100% increase in special education funding is particularly exciting for Tina Kerr, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. “That has been something that we've always felt has been woefully underfunded, is how to help these students make sure they get the appropriate services,” Kerr said. “Because sometimes it comes at the expense of other things in the district if they don't have the funds.”

Both bills would reimburse districts for providing free breakfast and lunch. The House bill would provide districts with funds to cover transportation costs, and would let districts use a two-year average student count (or “blended count”) to determine its foundation allowance, a formula that’s expected to boost funding.

Kerr said lawmakers seem to have heard what school leaders are calling for, and are acting with an appropriate sense of urgency. “Certainly, with the delayed learning that occurred during the pandemic, it's become even more critical for us to make sure that our school districts are fully-funded,” she said.

Lawmakers need to iron out the differences between the bills before they can move on to Governor Whitmer’s desk, and McCann said he’s hopeful about the final product. “Really our hope at this point is that they can sort of take the best of both of them, and finalize a budget that can truly be transformative for what public education needs to be going forward,” he said.

But McCann is urging the Legislature to move as quickly as possible. That’s because school districts are already in their yearly budgeting process, and need to finalize budgets by July.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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