Snyder (Al Goldis / AP)
When Gov. Rick Snyder presents his budget proposal today, he’s expected to support a 3 percent boost in K-12 education funding. Preparing Michigan’s next generation is a good investment. But more can be done to bring fairness to the distribution of funds.
A significant portion of the budget is already tied to education — this school year, Michigan funneled more than $13.3 billion in state and federal funds to K-12 schools. K-12 spending makes up about a third of the budget. And the state’s 15 public universities will receive a 6 percent boost; community colleges will get 3 percent more.
That continues a trend of Snyder increasing support for state schools, contrary to recent attacks from his opponent in the fall election, Democrat Mark Schauer. In a recent TV ad, Schauer calls out Snyder for “cuts to school funding.”
Since Snyder took office, Senate Fiscal Agency reports show state support has grown to $11.4 billion, from $10.7 billion. Education funding did receive a cut at the beginning of the governor’s term, but that was largely a result of federal stimulus dollars going away. Increased state funding helped fill the gap.
Snyder has also touted the savings schools are experiencing from recent reforms to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. The state is plowing money into the system (around $505 million this school year alone), offsetting the rapidly increasing legacy costs schools face. That frees more dollars for classroom use.
But while the subsidy for the pension system benefits traditional public schools, it does nothing to help charter schools, which typically don’t offer pensions. Charter schools are pushing for some budget changes that would make funding more fair for them. These alternative schools receive about $1,500 less per student than their traditional public school counterparts. Plus, charter schools aren’t allowed to levy taxes to purchase buildings or for infrastructure improvements.
Alicia Urbain, vice president of legal and governmental affairs for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, suggests the state start placing a higher percentage of school funding into the foundation grant. Schools get funding through a complex set of “categorical” streams that include school lunches and special education. Urbain says this places more emphasis on funding programs, not individual students.
The governor and lawmakers have said they support school choice and even lifted the cap on charter schools. They should address these funding disparities.
In his budget, Snyder is also asking for an additional $65 million to allow for 16,000 more low-income children to participate in the state’s Great Start preschool program. Placing emphasis on early education is smart, but Michigan must ensure these dollars are going to good use. Studies of the federal Head Start program have shown lackluster results.
Overall, these budget recommendations signal the administration is placing its spending priority in the right place: on Michigan schools.