Whitmer pitches biggest K-12 funding increase in nearly 20 years

A proposed K-12 education budget from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to be unveiled Thursday includes the largest funding increase for classrooms in nearly 20 years, according to State Budget Office data.

It features $60 million in additional funding for special education and another $60 million to support academically at-risk and economically disadvantaged students.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer gave the Democratic party's response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020 at East Lansing High School.

Whitmer provided The Detroit News with an advance look at her budget proposal, which includes a move toward a weighted foundation formula based on equity, ahead of Thursday's 2020-21 fiscal year budget presentation by State Budget Director Chris Kolb to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

The governor's proposed budget includes:

  • A funding increase in the school aid fund of $150 to $225 per pupil, which equates to $8,336 per pupil for districts at the minimum and $8,679 per pupil for districts at the maximum. This would reduce the gap between the highest and lowest funded districts to $343 per pupil.
  • A $60 million increase — a 100% increase over last year's budget funding — in additional funding for special education services to help districts address the wide variety of needs for special education students.
  • A $60 million increase — an 11.5% increase over last year's budget — in funding to support academically at-risk and economically disadvantaged students to allow for additional instructional supports.
  • A $5 million increase — a 38% increase over last year — in additional funding for English language learners.

The budget plan calls for $25 million in new funding to reimburse teachers for out-of-pocket supply costs, providing up to a $250 reimbursement per teacher, in recognition that teachers spend their own money to supply their classrooms. 

Whitmer is also seeking $35 million for the Michigan Reconnect program to provide a tuition-free pathway for adults looking to earn a post-secondary certificate or associate degree.

The governor's proposed budget calls for increased funding for the state's Great Start Readiness Program, which provides free preschool to eligible 4-year-olds. The program serves an estimated 38,000 children statewide.

Whitmer wants to expand state-provided preschool services and increase funding to high-need areas at a cost of $42 million while increasing the per-child rate from $7,250 to $8,336 at a cost of $35.5 million.

Under the Great Start plan, Detroit Public Schools Community District would get $16 million to serve 1,919 students, Flint Community Schools would get $3.7 million to serve 433 students and the Pontiac school district would get $3.2 million to serve 388 students. The other funds would be divided among 23 other districts.

Her proposal also calls for providing money to the intermediate school districts to offer pre-K programming to 4-year-olds who are not being served by the Great Start Readiness program.

Eligible districts would receive $8,336 per participating 4-year-old to fund services. The total allocation to a district would be capped at $16 million.

Whitmer is also calling for a per-child increase in the Great Start program. Under current funding, intermediate school districts receive $7,250 for each child enrolled in the full-day program and $3,625 for each child enrolled in half-day programs.

The budget calls for an increase to $8,336 for full-day and $4,168 for half-day programs, bringing the full-day allocation to the same level as the minimum foundation allowance.

Whitmer said rates have not been increased since 2014. The estimated cost of the increase is $35.5 million.

Details of how Whitmer intends to pay for the education reforms was not included in the advance look provided to The News.

"The good news is that the school aid fund had solid growth this year, so as we sat down to build the budget with the governor, she had additional dollars to make a significant investment in education, which is a top priority for her,” said Kurt Weiss, spokesperson for the State Budget Office.

Thursday's budget presentation will follow a year of battles among leaders in Michigan’s divided government. They include sparring over Whitmer’s proposed 45-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase, stalled road money negotiations, a delayed budget proposal from the GOP-led Legislature and $947 million in line-item vetoes by Whitmer.

The Legislature and Democratic governor later agreed to restore some of the vetoed funding.

Budget appropriations for fiscal year 2019-20 added up to roughly $59.5 billion as of mid-January, including roughly $17.7 billion for K-12 and higher education, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis.

Whitmer announced in her State of the State address last week that she would tackle immediate road repair needs through $3.5 billion in bonds paid back over 25 years — a total cost of $5.2 billion, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The improvements will be focused solely on state trunk lines, with Metro Detroit receiving 28 of 122 new or accelerated projects financed by the bonds. 

State Rep. Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, who is chairman of the Michigan House Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday that he's “hopeful that the governor is going to present a realistic balanced budget to the Legislature."

“I look forward to working with the governor’s office to find ways to improve our roads, educate our children, and protect our Great Lakes without raising taxes — but this proposal should be fiscally responsible and based on existing revenues, not tax increase proposals that never get introduced as legislation," he said in a statement.

The governor will lay out a “strong vision” for the state, particularly when it comes to education, said state Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, minority vice chairman for Senate Appropriations.

“We’ll see a large investment in education and some important health care changes, and I think they’ll be positive for Michigan,” Hertel said.

Last year, Whitmer called for the state to switch to a weighted-funding formula that builds off the foundation allowance and includes additional funding per student for those with more costly education needs.

Whitmer's proposal called for $102 million to increase support for economically disadvantaged, academically at-risk students, which would provide an estimated $894 per eligible pupil and $120 million to increase state reimbursement for special education services, which is an increase of four percentage points over the current level of 28%.

State lawmakers did not approve Whitmer's weighted funding formula proposal. Instead, they approved raising the minimum per-pupil foundation allowance from $7,871 per child to $8,111, a $240 increase. Districts getting the maximum foundation allowance saw a $120 increase.

Last month, a report by a nonpartisan research and education advocacy group said Michigan should invest more in low-income students, rural students and vulnerable students rather than focus on increasing across-the-board, per-student funding.

The Education Trust-Midwest’s new report says with Michigan in the bottom five states for equitable K-12 school funding, the state should change its education funding system, which awards money per-pupil regardless of individual student need, to a weighted funding system to improve outcomes for students who are special needs, low-income, in isolated rural districts and learning English in school.