On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee passed a School Aid budget that leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, appropriately funding students and teachers across our state is being cast aside in the House Republicans’ haste to pursue their agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy. It is critical that we recognize and empower all of our state’s students to achieve their full potential, and to promote and preserve our public education system. As passed out of committee, this budget does very little to reassure teachers and students that their government is investing in them and their futures. Although the House Democrats proposed a budget that would have fully funded at-risk programming and invested in STEM education funding, sadly, the House Republicans rejected our budget. As we move forward in this budgetary process, I vow to continue fighting on behalf of those who feel they do not have a voice in their state Capitol, and to work with my colleagues to craft a budget that supports all Michigan students and teachers.
Some of my key concerns with this School Aid budget include:
- A wasteful and unfair increase in the foundation allowance for the wealthiest school districts: Did you know that our state does not distribute your tax dollars equally amongst the various school districts across the state? Did you know that traditionally wealthy districts often receive much more than middle-class or poor districts? When Michigan changed the funding mechanism for public schools from property tax based to a sales tax based system,with the passage of Proposal A in the 1990s, there was a wide gap in school funding from district to district. To gradually close this unfair gap, Michigan generally gives schools that receive the minimum foundation allowance twice the increase that districts at the top receive. But not in this budget. The House School Aid Budget that was voted out of the Appropriations Committee includes a flat $100 per pupil increase to every school district. This means that wealthy districts (which already receive over $700 more per pupil than districts receiving the minimum allowance) are going to maintain their advantage, and Michigan taxpayers are going to foot the bill. The House plan will cost an additional $15 million.
- A $21 million decrease to at-risk funding: The governor proposed to expand eligibility for funding for at-risk school districts. This would mean more money to help an additional 131,000 economically disadvantaged pupils. The House School Aid Budget would cap funds available for newly eligible at-risk pupils who attend school in unqualified districts at 50 percent of what a fully funded student would merit. This is an arbitrary and unfair approach to addressing poverty.
- Slashing additional funding for high schoolers: With AP classes, extracurricular clubs and sports, career and technical education, and courses for college credit, grades 9-12 are by far the most expensive years of K-12 education. The governor’s budget recommendation included additional funding for districts that provide high school education. The House School Aid Budget eliminated this $22 million item.
- Cuts to safety net for districts with declining enrollment: As birth rates in the state continue to decrease, many school districts are facing declining enrollments. Student populations are lowering among all grade levels, making it nearly impossible to find the right size for a teaching staff. Due to the difficulties presented by these declining enrollments, many schools face budgetary challenges each year. The governor’s recommendation included $7 million to help these districts cope with declining enrollment — the House’s version eliminated this cushion.
- Cyber school inequity: Maintaining a traditional school campus is very costly. Heat, electricity, school lunch, grounds keeping and busing are major expenses. Cyber schools absorb none of these costs and so, logically, they should be less expensive to operate. The executive recommendation called for cyber schools to be funded at 80 percent of the state minimum foundation allowance after the school’s first year of operation. The House School Aid Budget rejects this logic and wastefully funds for-profit cyber schools at the same rate as traditional schools.
I could go on listing my objections with this budget, but in the interest of brevity, I have to stress that there is still a lot of work to be done. I look forward to continued negotiations with my colleagues and, hopefully, making this bill something that can garner wide support.