Rep. Levin, school leaders push for federal education aid

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin hosted a virtual roundtable Wednesday with school leaders from Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties to highlight how much Michigan stands to gain in federal funding for education in the proposed $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed last week by the House.

Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., speaks at the Capitol in Washington in this file photo from Dec. 18, 2019.

The bill, known as the HEROES Act (Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Emergency Situations) is aimed at mitigating budget shortfalls and includes $100 million for continued access to K-12 and higher education. It is the fifth piece of legislation to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

The measure passed the House with strong opposition from Republicans and faces tough odds in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“The COIVD-19 pandemic has surely exacerbated existing pressures on our school districts and created new ones, especially with those with the most underserved students,” said Levin, D-Bloomfield Twp. 

"It is essential that we continue to support students and our schools especially as the state of Michigan faces upcoming budget shortfalls that could have lasting impacts on Michigan families without urgent federal support."

The proposed funding in the HEROES Act includes $500 billion for state budgets. For Michigan, that would include more than $7 billion in 2020 and more than $6 billion in 2021 to help with state funding priorities, said Levin, who is vice chair of the Education and Labor Committee.

Michigan is projecting a budget shortfall of $3.2 billion as a result of the pandemic.

"I certainly hope if that became law, it would mean that there would be full support for the K-12 education budget," said Levin.

The act also includes more than $100 billion to maintain access to education directly, including $90 billion for state fiscal stabilization funds, Levin said. He said that would bring Michigan about $2.7 billion.

Another $58 billion would be for K-12 schools to continue delivering instruction, including purchasing educational technology and hot-spot devices, planning and implementing summer learning, training and professional development, maintaining school personnel, including $1.75 billion for Michigan, Levin said.

There is also $27 billion out of the $90 billion for public higher education. For Michigan, it would mean $809 million.

Nearly $4 billion is part of the proposed package for governors to award to school districts and higher education institutions. The estimated amount for Michigan is $134 million.

"It is critical for Michigan education that these provisions stay intact as the HEROES Act moves to the Senate," said Levin. 

Leaders of local school district hailed the proposed funding measure.

"This is the kind of response we need from the nation," said  Macomb ISD Superintendent Michael DeVault. "We know the economy is in a very tough spot ... You can’t separate the economy from schools. You have to have schools open to have the economy open. You have to have successful schools to have a successful economy. There are interdependent."

He said he hopes the measure is passed.

"I can't see any other half-way forward, realistically and responsibly without the support of schools," DeVault said

The needs of the district during this crisis are unique, said Oakland Schools Superintendent Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson. 

"We are in unchartered waters," said Cook-Robinson. "We are going to have COVID-19 related costs to items schools never thought they would never have to buy: PPE equipment, sanitation masks, screening apparatus ..."

Wayne RESA Superintendent Dr. Randy Liepa added that there is a lot of planning underway to implement best practices next fall for schools

"Our economy is not going to get up and running again if we don't have schools in place for students," said Liepa, "and parents, who need to get back to work."