House passes school budget; Senate expected to follow suit


House Republicans put the “School bus” budget—the omnibus bill consisting of K-12, higher education, and community colleges—on the road last week with a 58-51 party-line vote. But unfortunately, the supposed increase still doesn’t put enough gas in the bus to make it go very far down the road. The Senate is expected to pass the budget this week.

The K-12 education budget is $245 million bigger than last year with $12.9 million dollars being spread between traditional public schools, cyber and charter schools, and intermediate school districts. In that amount is a $120 per pupil equity payment to increase the maximum foundation allowance for the lowest 448 school districts. Most other school districts will see no increase.

While Republicans may be priding themselves on making education a priority with this paltry increase, it does nothing to make up for the $470 per pupil cut from last year and the underfunding of education that’s been going on for years. After cutting schools by $1 billion last year to pay for a $1.8 billion tax cut for corporate special interests, this budget is simply too little too late. And Republicans may characterize their equity payment as “closing the gap,” but it just pits one school district against another creating a whole new group of winners and losers.

School districts can also “earn” an extra $52 per pupil if they’re willing to go for seven out of the eight “carrots” the Legislature is tempting them with and do the “right” thing—participate in schools of choice; bid out non-instructional services; measure student growth at least twice; offer online learning; declare themselves policy holder for health insurance; support post-secondary credit for high school students; create a dashboard to measure dropout rates, MEAP and Merit Exam scores; and provide physical or health education classes.

There are other pots of money school districts can tap into. There are technology grants for technology improvements and computer-adaptive tests like those to replace the MEAP. And there is money again for performance grants based on MEAP and MME data, but it’s still $160 million less than last year.

To make sure money goes into the classroom and not in the hands of school employees, funds have been set aside to help school districts with their MPSERS payroll and to prefund retiree health care as prescribed in the latest version of SB 1040.

Six Republicans voted against the bill—Representatives Callton, Genetski, Heise, MacGregor, O’Brien, and Yonker—but most Republicans are calling this budget an investment in public education. Rep. Bill Rogers said, “Education is important in this state. We are putting money back in.”

But, Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Birmingham) characterized the budget by saying, “All some want is more money dumped into the same system that has been delivering poor results. To continue funding that system is to continue funding failure.”

Are they talking about the same budget?

Maybe Sen. Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer best described what happened to education—again: “I am aghast that Republicans think higher of themselves than they do of the people of Michigan, as they had the gall to give themselves a round of applause for completing yet another budget that drastically slashes education funding. This budget is just a futile attempt by Republicans to paper over all the damage they have done to our kids’ schools over the last two years. But I know, and the people know where their loyalties really lie—with their rich corporate cronies and shady special interests.”