Senator warns of potential 25% cut in state school funds

David Eggert
Associated Press

Lansing — A lawmaker warned Tuesday of a potential 25% cut in state funding for K-12 schools because of economic fallout from the pandemic, saying he is not “banking” on Congress sending additional aid to states or giving flexibility to use previously passed rescue money.

Sen. Wayne Schmidt, a Republican who chairs the Senate’s education budget subcommittee, said 25% is “certainly the high end,” but that schools should brace for the worst in the next fiscal year. About 40% of the $14 billion in state revenues for the school aid fund comes from sales tax collections.

“There’s no way around it. There’s going to be cuts to the per-pupil foundation,” Schmidt said.

State Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, warned Tuesday of a potential 25% cut in state funding for K-12 schools because of economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, saying he is not "banking" that Congress will send additional coronavirus aid to states or give flexibility to use previously passed rescue money.

The base per-student grant for most districts is $8,111 in the current budget. Schools currently are closed at least until August, except for distance learning.

School officials disagreed that K-12 cuts are unavoidable. The state is receiving $3 billion in federal assistance to combat the coronavirus, though it cannot use the money to offset billions of revenue lost due to the economic downturn. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is pressing for such flexibility. Also, the Democratic-led U.S. House on Tuesday unveiled a $3 trillion-plus coronavirus relief bill that includes $500 billion for states to help prevent layoffs of public workers, cuts to services or tax hikes.

Mark Greathead, superintendent of the Woodhaven-Brownstown School District outside Detroit, said suggesting a 25% cut “is simply ignoring the realities that we are facing and would likely result in a number of districts being unable to reopen at all.”

Greathead is president of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, which represents superintendents in metro Detroit. The group is working with the congressional delegation and state legislators on a plan to invest in schools and ensure they can reopen safely to students in the fall, he said.

Nonpartisan legislative economists and top officials in Whitmer’s administration will meet Friday to receive an economic forecast and come to a consensus on revenues. The state budget office has projected a possible shortfall of up to $3 billion this fiscal year and up to $4 billion next budget year, which begins in October.

Schmidt cautioned that his outlook is preliminary, and revenue figures will become clearer over the summer. “But (I’m) trying to give superintendents an idea of where their budgets should be,” he said.

Asked if the federal government should give Michigan additional flexibility to use coronavirus relief aid to fill budget holes, Schmidt said: “Well, I’m not banking on that because who knows what Congress is going to do.”

The state health department on Tuesday reported 90 additional COVID-19 deaths and 469 more confirmed cases. Nearly 4,700 have died and 48,000 have been infected – though cases are thought to be higher.