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Opinion: Policymakers marked 'absent' in school funding discussion

Mark Greathead

School officials throughout Michigan have spent the last several months planning for the upcoming school year in an effort to give our students and parents the best options possible for learning this fall despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Our collective goal throughout the process was to work with our parents, teachers, boards of education and communities to design reopening plans that allow options for in-class learning while prioritizing the health and safety of both our students and staff.

Unfortunately, as educators have made these efforts to give our students the best path forward possible, we’ve been let down by state and federal lawmakers who have refused to act on the most fundamental funding and policy questions necessary to implement these plans and give our students the support they both need and deserve.

Nearly two months ago, the Tri-County Alliance sent a clear communication to lawmakers that in addition to the already known multi-billion dollar deficits in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 budgets, schools statewide were facing, at a minimum, over $1 billion in new costs to plan for reopening this year to provide PPE, implement safety measures and ensure, to the best extent possible, the health and safety of both students and staff. While this letter we sent was given a great deal of attention by the media, school boards and parents, the reaction from Lansing was continued silence and inaction.

Worse, when we did see movement in Lansing, it was in the form of legislation that would only put more obstacles in place and make every educator’s job that much harder. Recent bills passed in the House of Representatives do little to help schools reopen and instead will create potentially unconstitutional regulations and burdens that not only risk the academic success of students but the health and safety of students and educators alike.

There is a straightforward solution on the table for Michigan lawmakers: immediately pass a fully-funded K-12 budget that provides schools with the resources and certainty they need to implement their reopening plans, Greathead writes.

There is a straightforward solution on the table for Michigan lawmakers: immediately pass a fully funded K-12 budget that provides schools with the resources and certainty they need to implement their reopening plans. This would, at long last, begin to reverse the decade-long “borrowing” of money from our K-12 schools to pay for other budget items that lawmakers deemed a higher priority over the years and begin investing in our K-12 schools again at a time we need it most.

In this current crisis, there is no excuse for not repaying schools after years of disinvestment — the time is now to act in the best interests of our children, teachers and staff. Once Washington finally takes action to pass the next stimulus, Lansing can use that money to address remaining budget issues in time for the state’s October 1 fiscal year to begin.

The difference is that schools can’t wait until Oct. 1 like other budgets can. Our fiscal year started over a month ago. Our school year starts in a matter of weeks.

For months, school leaders have been asking for clarity, flexibility and additional funding to plan for the safe reopening of schools. Our students, our families, our teachers and our communities need an immediate solution. There is no more time to spare — the clock has run out. Additional funding is the only path forward at this point.    

If Lansing refuses to act, they will jeopardize the education of every student in Michigan. We urge lawmakers here in Michigan and Washington to do what is right for our children to ensure they receive the high-quality education they deserve.

Mark Greathead is superintendent of Woodhaven-Brownstown Schools and president of the Tri-County Alliance.