Michigan House OKs big K-12 budget, pushes for July 1 deal

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan House late Thursday overwhelmingly approved a $65 billion state spending plan and the release of billions in federal COVID-19 relief aid for K-12 schools, seeking to pressure the Senate to get on board so it could be signed into law soon.

There is an agreement between the Republican-led House and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but not with the GOP-controlled Senate. The plan would, as the governor recently proposed, eliminate a funding gap among school districts — a milestone 27 years after Michigan overhauled the financing of public education.

Districts and charter schools would receive $8,700 in base per-student state aid, not including at least $1,093 more per pupil in federal funding from a rescue package signed by President Joe Biden in March. The state grant would rise by $589, or 7%, for the vast majority of traditional districts and charter schools. Districts at the higher end would get an additional $171, a 2% increase.

“This is the budget Michigan families have been asking us to deliver. … We’re finally eliminating the inequality in our funding system that treated students from different districts as though they had different values,” said Rep. Mary Whiteford, a Republican from Allegan County’s Casco Township.

“This is a historic win for education,” said Rep. Regina Weiss, an Oak Park Democrat and former teacher.

The budget bills won approval on 105-3 or 104-4 votes.

The next fiscal year does not start until Oct. 1. But a 2019 law, enacted after a budget impasse, requires lawmakers to send Whitmer a plan by July 1. It could be delayed like it was in 2020.

The fiscal year for school districts begins July 1, however, and superintendents are pressing legislators for clarity as they finalize spending following a tumultuous academic year and lost learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican, told reporters he was “anxious” to see the House’s general and K-12 budget bills and said he has always been supportive of payments to help districts that stand to get less federal pandemic funding because they have fewer low-income students.

“We want to work with the House and the governor’s office on getting this done” by July 1, Stamas said in a later statement, adding that if a deal is not reached next week, schools got substantial dollars in previous federal relief laws.

The House-passed bills would fund everything normally in the state budget except public universities and community colleges. Decisions on their aid were put off.

The House embraced the governor’s revised proposal to expand government-funded preschool to 22,000 eligible but unenrolled 4-year-olds. Whitmer said the three bills represent bipartisan progress and are a “strong start.”

“However, we still have a lot of work to do to get this across the finish line, and I look forward to action from the Senate by July 1st so we can deliver for Michigan’s families, small businesses and communities,” she said in a statement.

School districts that split $3.3 billion from the most recent U.S. rescue law would have to use at least 20% to address learning loss with interventions such as summer learning and afterschool programs. An additional $180 million in federal funds would go to private schools, as designated under law.

Talks on spending $6.5 billion in discretionary federal pandemic funding will continue over the summer.

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