Letter: Federal, state lawmakers must act on school funding

The Detroit News

The Detroit News editorial board recently wrote, “Congress can't afford to bail out Michigan” (June 14), in response to calls for urgently needed federal stimulus dollars for schools and other elements of the state budget.

Having a firm grasp on the need for K-12 school funding, I would argue the federal government can’t afford not to come to the aid of schools.

The editorial board’s perspective is well-taken. Lansing cannot be off the hook in terms of making difficult decisions. The Michigan Legislature has available resources in the state’s rainy day fund that can, and should, be directed toward alleviating the current budget shortfall.

However, the resources that will be required for schools to reopen safely in the fall will necessitate significant federal funding. And that funding is needed urgently, with the school calendar starting on July 1.

To claim that school funding needs are, as the opinion piece states, a result of states’ “self-imposed lockdowns,” paints an incomplete picture. The combined $2.3 billion deficit in the School Aid Fund for this year and next only scratches the surface of the budget crisis.

The Tri-County Alliance for Public Education released a cost analysis estimating the expected health and safety requirements associated with a safe reopening of schools will add more than $1 billion in new costs for school districts statewide for the upcoming school year. Without additional support, this equates to $665 per-pupil that would be diverted from students’ education.

Those are brand new costs associated with preliminary guidance from health departments on PPE equipment and other efforts — they’re not a result of stay at home orders or “bad financial decisions.”

The budget process remains a reflection of our state and our country’s priorities, and it is time state and federal legislators made students an unrefuted priority once again, Greathead writes.

Without solutions, these shortfalls are not something schools can simply absorb, with budgets having already been stretched thin. It would be devastating. Cuts being discussed in Lansing have the potential to require districts to lay off a significant portion of their teaching staff, eliminate key educational programs for students, or even prevent them from reopening their doors at all.

For that reason, additional stimulus dollars — and flexibility in existing funds — must come from Washington to supplement state funding. The HEROES Act stimulus package passed by the U.S. House included nearly $60 billion in funding for K-12 school districts across the country as part of a broader effort to stabilize state budgets. The legislation was a significant step in the right direction, but it didn’t pass the Senate. Unsurprisingly, politics are getting in the way and, frankly, schools don’t have time for that.

Without action on budgets in the coming weeks that provides school districts with the resources and the flexibility they will need, the ability of every school district in the country to safely reopen its doors this fall will be put at risk.

The budget process remains a reflection of our state and our country’s priorities, and it is time state and federal legislators made students an unrefuted priority once again.

Mark Greathead, superintendent, Woodhaven-Brownstown Schools 

president, Tri-County Alliance for Education