Governor's budget adds $75 per pupil for schools

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder proposed Wednesday a $75 per-student increase in funding for public schools next year, but the figure could balloon to as much as $275 if voters on May 5 approve a sales tax increase.

School districts, which have struggled with rising costs, are banking on the proposed tax hike package to give them an additional financial boost.

Snyder's spending blueprint for 2016 includes $11.9 billion in K-12 state appropriations, a $1.2 billion increase from fiscal year 2011. It includes setting aside $75 million to help school districts with chronic debt.

"I don't view this as bailouts. … I think it's prudent to start reserving funds… ," the governor said.

The spending plan could greatly change between now and early June, when lawmakers want to send a finished budget to Snyder's desk. Passage of the ballot initiative could make or break some school budgets.

The tax proposal would raise the state's sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, eliminate the sales tax on fuel and create a new tax on gasoline and diesel, earmarked entirely for transportation projects and upkeep. It also would boost education funding $300 million a year.

Metro Detroit school districts said Snyder's proposed boost in education funding is welcome, but more is needed.

Todd Biederwolf, superintendent of Harper Woods Schools, said a $75 per-pupil increase would translate to about 1 percent in extra revenue for most districts. He projected such a hike would allow his district to maintain current staffing and academic programs.

"However, it would not be enough additional funding to both offset anticipated increases in operating costs and fund the expansion of educational programming," Biederwolf said in an email.

"With school district costs for expenses such as health care increasing, that means the 'buying power' for schools has been reduced," he said.

Blake Prewitt, superintendent of Ferndale Public Schools, said the extra money would amount to $225,000 for his district of 3,000 students. He said the district expects salary increases alone for 2015-16 to total $700,000.

"I am grateful for any increase in per-pupil spending, as it will help in budget planning, but we need to fix the funding model for education in Michigan if we truly want to increase student achievement," Prewitt said.

In the Novi Community School District, Superintendent Steve Matthews said his district will lose money because of other changes in the governor's budget.

Snyder has proposed eliminating performance funding that gave the Novi schools $70 per pupil for reaching certain test score levels, Matthews said. In addition, the governor wants to reduce "best practices" funding from $50 per student to $20, costing the Novi schools another $30 per pupil, Matthews said.

"So the governor's budget proposal for Novi would result in a net $25 decrease per pupil or a cut to our budget of $161,000," he wrote in an email.

Other education proposals in Snyder's budget include:

■Adding $25 million to continue a third-grade reading initiative aimed at making Michigan children proficient by that grade.

■Adding $28 million, or 2 percent more, for Michigan's 15 public universities and $4.3 million more, or 1.4 percent, for community college operations. The recommendation calls for universities to limit tuition increases to 2.8 percent or less to receive the funding increase.

■An increase of $100 million for at-risk funding for students statewide, from $310 million to $410 million.

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Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.