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Education budget bills advance to full Senate Appropriations Committee

Jennifer Guerra/Michigan Radio

Michigan education budget bills advanced to the full Senate Appropriations Committee this week.

A $17.8 billion school aid budget proposal would raise the per-student spending amount for both in-person and cyber schools to $9,150 per pupil.

It would also put $15 million toward opening school-based health clinics.

“It’s kind of one-stop shopping. That, if a student has some challenges, be it physical or mental, they can go in right there at school, things are taken care of, you know, if referrals are needed to be made, it’s really exciting,” Senator Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) said.

The bill would also put $10 million toward expanding the state’s TRAILS program for at-risk students. But it’s a far cry from the $150 million Governor Gretchen Whitmer included in her executive budget recommendation.

That disappoints Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan.

He said he feels the budget leaves out important funding increases for those at-risk students as well as special education.

“Services are more critically needed than ever. And so, to see the Senate just ignore the funding for those programs just means that we aren’t meeting the needs not only of those particular students, but we aren’t meeting the needs of any students since we have to pull resources from elsewhere,” McCann said.

In total, the Senate’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022-23 school aid budget is around $516 million less than the governor’s proposal.

McCann said it feels incomplete, even compared to where the state was last year at this time.

“It’s the type of thing that looks rushed and unfinished and it leaves billions of dollars unaccounted for,” he said.

But Schmidt, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12 and Michigan Department of Education, said it is currently incomplete. He expects more spending to come after negotiations.

“We’re not going to see cuts. We’re going to see changes and, overall, increased spending. I think the governor, the House and the Senate all agree on those very important items,” Schmidt said.

According to Schmidt, that likely increase in funding is an important takeaway.

“We’re going to have some fighting. There’s going to be some ups and downs. There’s going to be some back and forths but overall, we’re heading in the right direction. This is probably since starting in 2012, continued increases in K-12 spending,” he said.

As far as the Department of Education budget goes, the Senate’s plan came in about $5 million under the governor’s recommendation.

A large chunk of that is a suggested $3 million appropriation for the Michigan School for the Blind that the Senate did not include.

Schmidt said that will likely go back in.

“Sometimes in these negotiations, that’s a point of difference and so it’s highlighted. But I think we’re going to do that. Same thing with Great Start Readiness Operations. We are going to see increased funding there. We’ve done it in the past. But, again, it’s going to be at what level,” Schmidt said.

The governor had recommended $700,000 for that program.

Schmidt said now lawmakers and the governor can “get down to brass tacks.”

The aim is to have the schools budget done before a July 1 deadline.

McCann said he hopes the House of Representatives’ proposal is “more fleshed out.”

“Michigan is in a unique situation this budget year,” McCann said. “If we don’t use this opportunity to look at our school finances and say, ‘What can we do right now that will have a positive impact on the quality of education that we provide students for years, decades, to come?’ Then we have really squandered this opportunity.”

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