House Democrats back GOP leaders on K-12 funding budget

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan House Democrats are throwing their support behind their Republican colleagues’ plan for K-12 funding in the 2020 budget.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and House Minority Leader Christine Greig told reporters Wednesday that they will vote the school aid budget out of conference committee Thursday morning, then off the House floor so that it is on its way to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk before the weekend.

"This is about presenting the best budget we can to the governor," said Greig, D-Farmington Hills. "This is the work of the House, of us coming together, doing our jobs on a daily basis and looking at what the needs of our districts are and fighting for those values." 

House Speaker Lee Chatfield and House Minority Leader Christine Greig told reporters Wednesday that they will vote the school aid budget out of conference committee Thursday morning, then off the House floor so that it is sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk before the weekend.

Neither Chatfield nor Greig would release details of the budget before Thursday’s committee meeting, but noted there were changes that made it amenable to House Democrats.

But the Whitmer administration was not as enthusiastic about the education proposal.

"We understand the House is putting an additional $30 million in one-time funds toward special education," Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said. "That’s a move in the right direction, but still nowhere near what the governor proposed in the executive budget, and far short of what our children deserve."

Chatfield said he has "every bit of confidence" the Senate will concur with the education funding changes. 

"The schools started their funding July 1," Greig said. "This is critically important that we take up this and get a budget to the governor as soon as possible."

A spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, declined comment when asked if Senate Democrats similarly backed the new K-12 schools budget plan. 

The K-12 schools budget will be the only full budget referred to the governor before the week is out, even though Whitmer urged the GOP-controlled House and Senate to send all of their department budgets before heading north this weekend to a Republican leadership conference. 

Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said they plan to send the remainder of the department budgets to Whitmer on Tuesday. They said those moves should allow the governor sufficient time to review the plans and sign them before a looming partial government shutdown Oct. 1. 

The agreement between House Republicans and Democrats Wednesday comes a week after budget negotiations broke down between Republican legislative leaders and the Democratic governor, reportedly over the inclusion of $500 million in one-time funding for roads. 

Whitmer suggested the one-time funding actually increases the costs of road repairs and could be used for other budget priorities while leaders work out a long-term road funding solution. Others have argued the $500 million could decrease Whitmer's leverage in negotiations over a long-term road funding solution. 

Whitmer's proposed 45-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase has been rejected by Republicans, who said they've put forward other funding solutions for her consideration. On Sept. 8, both parties agreed to set aside the long-term road funding talks to focus on passing a state budget before the Sept. 30 deadline. 

Three days after that agreement, Whitmer and Republican leaders abruptly ended negotiations. Instead, the GOP-led House and Senate promised to send their department budgets to the governor without prior consensus. 

The support of House Democrats for the new K-12 budget adds weight to the agreement as it heads to Whitmer's desk. 

"I was very proud of the product that was sent to the floor last week," Chatfield said. "However, in conversations and negotiations with Minority Leader Greig, we've made several changes that I think make it even better, even healthier, better for our kids."

The GOP K-12 schools budget passed out of conference committees last week will be sent back to conference Thursday morning, Chatfield said. The plan agreed to last week increased spending 2.4% to $15.2 billion, less than the 3.5% increase to $15.4 billion proposed by Whitmer. The plan included $304 million to boost K-12 classroom spending by between $120 and $240 per pupil.

The per pupil allowance increase was larger than what was proposed by Whitmer, but her budget included larger hikes for at-risk, special education and career tech students, moving the state more aggressively toward a weighted funding formula.