The historic K-12 budget valued at $17.1 billion -- outshining last year's allocation by 10% and eliminating the 27-year-old per-pupil funding gap -- was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
This budget was the initial leaf to fall in Michigan's budgeting process for Fiscal Year 2022, featuring $723 million to wipe out the gap between minimum and maximum state foundation allowances by setting each at $8,700 per-pupil -- a $589 boost from the minimum allowance for the current year.
A majority of K-12 public schools kicked off their next fiscal years on July 1, making this budget a priority when it came to the Legislature meeting their own July 1 statutory deadline, at least partially.
"Every district can hire more top-notch teachers and bring on more nurses and psychologists and school social workers to help our students," Whitmer said during Tuesday's news conference at East Kentwood High School near Grand Rapids. "This equalized funding will improve the quality of educational opportunities for schools and students across the state and set a solid foundation for which to build our future."
In signing HB 4411, the Governor line-item vetoed $155 million in federal funding that the Legislature wanted directed toward Grand Valley State University to administer a program to address learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also vetoed $1 million in transportation funding that appeared tailored for a specific school district.
Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12 and the Michigan Department of Education, said in Whitmer’s press release that closing the funding gap between school districts has been “especially focused on” throughout the last few budget cycles.
“I’m happy we’ve finally been able to reach this milestone that levels the playing field,” he said. “On top of providing additional resources that will help teachers in the classroom and help students get back on track as we work to emerge from the pandemic, this bipartisan budget would increase per-pupil funding and ensure every school district across Michigan will receive the same amount in minimum per-pupil foundation allowance funding from the state.”
In early June, the School Finance Research Collaborative published that the base per-pupil expense to educate a Michigan student bounced by $831 since 2018 and was currently situated at $10,421 per child — within FY 2021, the median foundation allowance amongst Michigan students was $8,111.
“We’ve got a ways to go on the total dollar amounts and the amounts needed to compensate for student characteristics, but today we are celebrating the fact that we finally closed the gap between the lowest and highest state-funded districts,” said Peter Spadafore of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators to MIRS.
Spadafore explained recent studies have exhibited per-pupil costs accumulating up to around $9,500-$10,000, plus weighted categorical funding for special education students, English language learners and at-risk students.
“We have some disparities across the state that deal with the ability for communities to raise CTE (Career Technical Education) education millages, special millages, the ability to build new schools and keep up with their neighboring districts . . . so there’s a lot of categorical issues that still need to be addressed,” Spadafore said.
He ensured Tuesday would be one of commemoration and festivities around this milestone funding, “but we can’t lose sight of the fact that there is a lot that still needs to be done to ensure that school finance is equitable and covers the cost of educating every child in the state of Michigan.”
The per-pupil gap was a quirk produced by Proposal A of 1994, which switched from funding schools with primarily local property taxes to providing each district a ration from the state through a raised sales tax.
Some districts received more from the state to prevent them from being net losers because of Proposal A’s structure — essentially, districts residing where the property tax cut would be a serious hit to their funding stream had a boost in state cash delivered their way.
“Now we can look forward into new years, new money investments . . . we can start looking forward into the equity in it,” said Jen Smith of the Michigan Association of School Boards, adding Michigan still needs to look at changing how it funds its students rather than merely considering the number of kids who show up in a classroom each day.
Federal funding from the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden in March also designated an additional at-least $1,093 in per-pupil funding.
Other qualities of the K-12 budget include:
– A $168.5 million investment into a Great Start Readiness Program to provide preschool for families residing at or below 250% of the federal poverty level, expanding the full-day per child allocation from $7,250 to $8,700
– $240 million for high-need districts to hire additional school counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers over three years
– A $1 million boost to support school-based mental health programing
– An extra $74.2 million for Special Education
– Small, rural and isolated districts will receive an additional $1.4 million in funding — accounting for a total of $8.4 million
– $12.2 million devoted to supporting English language learners
– $135 million over three years incentivizing schools to adopt year-round academic calendars through financing HVAC improvements and air conditioning
– $11.5 million for schools to administer baseline tests for students in order to estimate learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions
– $2.4 million devoted to supporting children impacted by the Flint water crisis
“The pandemic has highlighted many differences for students across the state, from technology to infrastructure,” said Michigan Teacher of the Year Owen Bondono in the Governor’s press release. “This budget helps ensure an effective education no matter where you live and attend school.”
Smith said the flexibility schools had last year when it came to counting students and what constitutes for a full day during a pandemic was not reinstalled for FY 2022, adding schools still have to make sure they’re following rules previously overshadowed by COVID-19.
“But I do think between the federal money and this added investment that schools will be able to look at some more creative ways to educate all of their students,” Smith said. “We’re really excited about the investments this year, we’re excited about closing that gap and or getting the budget done at the end of June instead of having to wait until October.”