Gov. Whitmer announces plan to eliminate funding gap between schools

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced her new plans today to use money from the American Rescue Plan and the expected surplus in the state to eliminate the funding gap between schools.

“Right now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to help each and every student recover academically, mentally, and physically,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “As we emerge from the pandemic and begin our economic recovery, we must work together to provide equitable school funding, attract and retain top talent, facilitate post-secondary transitions, and build stronger, safer schools. With the resources we have available to us thanks to federal aid and a state surplus, we can making lasting, transformative investments in our kids and schools that will have positive impacts for generations.” 

David Hecker, President of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan says lack of funding is the root of many issues in the school system.

“Between teacher shortage issues, program cuts, curriculum narrowed for our kids all because of the lack of proper funding for schools,” Hecker said.

Doug Pratt, Director of Public Affairs for Michigan Education Association agrees, he says this will help them in the right direction.

“Doing what we can to stop the trend with this educator shortage and bring more people into the profession to meet both the academic and the social, physical and emotional health,” said Pratt. “This is an opportunity to address decades of underfunding for education and it’s an opportunity you simply can’t miss.”

In the last year, Michigan has gone from a nearly $ 3 billion deficit to a $3.5 billion surplus, Whitmer’s office said.

“There isn’t a governor in the country who could have predicted the challenges that lay ahead just over a year ago, but Governor Whitmer has helped lead Michigan through a difficult time and we are now emerging from the public health crisis in a very strong financial position,” said State Budget Director David Massaron. “We have a unique opportunity to make investments in education that are lasting and that can better support our teachers and improve outcomes for our students.” 

“A once in a century pandemic calls for an unprecedented response,” said Student Recovery Advisory Council Chair Kevin Polston. “This historic investment into our education system will support a brighter future for Michigan’s children. The Student Recovery Advisory Council Blueprint for a Comprehensive Recovery lays out evidence-based plans for school leaders and policymakers to make the best use of funds.” 

Whitmer’s office said the plan puts hundreds of millions of dollars toward student academic recovery and mental health, with funding to attract and retain talented teachers, school psychologists, counselors, social workers, and nurses. 

“Governor Whitmer has had the backs of educators throughout the pandemic and now is the time for educators to have the Governor’s back with her efforts to release the necessary funding to help teachers educate our students next school year,” said Rick Meeth, president of the Bay City Education Association. 

State Representative Thomas Albert (R) said in a press release getting students back in the classroom should also be a priority.

“My primary focus is on helping students catch up on learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and making sure that in-person instruction is prioritized moving forward. Most kids learn better in the classroom, and the school setting is also critically important to their social and emotional growth. I hope the governor shares that priority,” said Albert.

Education leaders say funding school districts is the main priority.

“Continuing to have this conversation about in-person, virtual it’s not something that’s moving the ball forward. We need to focus on what individual students need,” said Pratt.

Here are some of the frameworks of the bill, according to Whitmer’s office.

·         Closing the funding gap between schools in lower and higher-income communities with a $262 million investment. This goal was put forward as part of Proposal A in 1994. 

·         Investing funds in students who need them the most through a weighted funding formula which distributes education dollars more equitably. 

o    This model supports at-risk students ($20.4m), special education ($60m), and English language learners ($12.2m). 

o    For special education specifically, we are allocating $6 million for pre-employment training, expanding a remote learning library, and hiring more qualified personnel for children with disabilities. 

·         A combined $500 million for districts to hire and retain more educators, psychologists, social workers, counselors and nurses, and provide student loan debt relief for mental and physical health professionals who work in high-need districts. 

·         Substantial investments to help students plan for life after high school by facilitating post-secondary transitions:  

o    $50 million to double funding for CTE, vocational, and skilled trades programs. 

o    $55 million to expand dual enrollment and early middle college programs. 

o    And $100 million to hire more guidance and career counselors.  

·         $500 million for school infrastructure. 

Other notable pieces include: 

·         $402 million to increase the foundation allowance by 4% ($163/$326 per pupil)  

·         $350 million to stabilize enrollment over 2 years for districts after COVID related unpredictability and pupil losses. 

·         $41.5 million for literacy coaches, an increase of $10 million from current law. 

·         $50 million for ongoing student mental health programs. 

·         A 2% operational funding increase for community colleges. 

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