House Democrats voiced strong concerns with the School Omnibus budget passed today in the House Appropriations Committee due to the Republican approach of picking “winners and losers” instead of helping level the playing field for all students. For years, Democrats have been calling for increased funding to support Michigan students and Republicans are starting to listen. Democrats applauded the funding increases for K-12 schools and community colleges, but remain concerned that for-profit charter schools get the highest increases while higher education funding levels were not returned to pre-2011 levels.

“When it comes to crossing the aisle on issues, matters involving the children of Michigan should be at the top of that list, and we will always work in their best interest,” said state Representative Pam Faris (D-Clio), member of the House Appropriations Committee. “With that in mind, we’re pleased that Republicans have finally taken a stand with us that more money must be put into our K-12 schools, and I’m sure they understand that there’s a long way to go on higher education funding.”

The budget increased per-pupil funding statewide and also added a 3.4 percent increase to community colleges. House Democrats have long championed for a fair per-pupil increase, which was prioritized in this budget. There is also funding for Flint, for areas such as school nurses, Great Start Readiness and Early On evaluations, as the city tries to look ahead at the educational needs of a student population poisoned by lead-tainted water. Additionally, Democrats emphasized their concern that Michigan still ranks 41st out of 50 for financial aid provided at the state level.

“My Democratic colleagues and I fought for fair solutions to this flawed budget so all students in Michigan, not just a select group have access to a great education,” said state representative Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores), minority vice chair of School Aid sub-committee. “Charter schools run by for-profit companies must be held to the same financial disclosure requirements as our public schools and it is obscene for cyber schools to get a $120 per-student increase when they don’t have the same costs and our traditional brick-and-mortar schools. This extra money is for profit. Why won’t the republicans stand for transparency of taxpayer dollars?”

House Democrats also offered several amendments to create a School Omnibus budget based more on fairness, including:

  • Charter school accountability measures, like requiring for-profit management companies to disclose how the spend taxpayer money.
  • Fighting against the $120 foundation increase for cyber schools by cutting that increase by 50 percent, since they do not have the same expenses as brick-and-mortar schools.
  • Restoring funding for universities as proposed by the governor to pre-2011 levels, as not all higher education funding needs were addressed.
  • Allowing at-risk money be used more broadly for students who need it.
  • Putting more money into student financial aid to help relieve student debt burdens.

Unfortunately, all of these amendments were struck down. This budget also eliminates the college readiness exam (SAT) and the M-STEP state test, but doesn’t provide any answers on a new, yet to be determined computer adaptive test.

“Far too many times we’re at odds with our Republican counterparts, but the spotlight has been on Michigan’s education for far too long in a negative way, and maybe now Republicans are realizing where our money needs to go,” said Appropriations Committee member state Representative Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor). “To also set aside money for the needs of Flint’s students, as they deal with cognitive challenges now and into the future due to the water crisis affecting the community, is a strong positive from this budget.”