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State legislature approves K-12 schools budget

The Michigan House of Representatives. Union members protested today in a State House committee room.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The Michigan House of Representatives. Union members protested today in a State House committee room.

Michigan’s K-12 schools can expect a big spending boost as they prepare to welcome students back to classrooms.

The Legislature adopted a spending bill Wednesday that guarantees districts at least $8,700 per student.

Democrats and Republicans cheered the bill as an example of bipartisan cooperation that finally closed a gap between districts in per-student spending.

That gap has existed for decades even after an effort to close it with Proposal A, which passed in 1994. Proposal A created the current system of drawing state K-12 funding from the state sales tax. Until 1993, the funding came from property taxes.

Zach Gorchow, the executive editor and publisher of Gongwer News Service, says the change helped, but didn't fully close the gap.

"There was a real chasm in per pupil funding between school districts ... because different communities have different property values, and different assessments, and different taxes," he told Michigan Radio's Morning Edition.

But even with Proposal A, the gap hadn't closed entirely until now. Gorchow says earlier in the pandemic, the state was projecting a budget deficit, but an unexpected windfall made the big boost in school funding possible.

"As it turned out, all of the federal money, coronavirus aid that has been sent to people in the form of checks, people are spending that money. And when you spend that money, you're paying sales tax. When you pay sales taxes, you're funding the schools," he said. 

"Now the big question is how sustainable, in the long term, is this increase in a year from now? Will we be looking at a little bit of a cooling off where we don't have all this extra revenue?" 

Although the K-12 budget is complete, the Legislature did not meet a self-imposed July 1 deadline for wrapping up the entire budget.

But Republican Senator Jim Stamas (R-Midland), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said schools now know what they’re working with.

“The other parts can come later and we can continue to work those out,” Stamas said.

There's a lot of work left to do. Gorchow says there are some complicated priorities on the list, including higher education funding. He also calls the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services budget the "800-pound gorilla" of the overall state budget.  

The Legislature is now on a two-week recess with a to-do list upon its return that also includes finishing budgets for revenue sharing with local governments.

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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