Unions cheer Whitmer’s proposed school funding boost  

By: - March 4, 2019 8:13 pm

A education union rally for public education | Derek Robertson

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to increase education funding in the fiscal year 2020 budget makes for a “strong initial step,” education unions said today.

A memo obtained by the Advance that outlines her education proposal ahead of her Tuesday budget presentation shows the Democratic governor will seek to increase education funding in Michigan by $507 million*, with weighted funding for different types of students.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Feb. 4, 2019 | Nick Manes

Whitmer’s administration said it’s the largest increase in classroom spending in 18 years, not counting funding for retirement costs, which was a priority for her predecessor, GOP Gov. Rick Snyder.

The details of the education component were first reported Monday morning by the Associated Press.

“It’s a strong initial step getting us where we need to be, which is outlined in Schools Financial Research Collaborative,” said David Hecker, Michigan president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). “Since 1995, we are 50th out of 50 states in school funding growth and Governor Whitmer is starting to turn that around.”

Hecker appeared to be referring to a January Michigan State University study that found total education revenue has declined by 30 percent since 2002 when adjusted for inflation, as the Advance reported.

David Hecker, AFT Michigan president, and Paula Herbart, MEA president, lead an educators rally at the Capitol in Lansing on Dec. 12, 2018 | Ken Coleman

The report determined the state’s public education system “is not performing well. In contrast to 1993, Michigan’s tax rates and student performance now fall well below the national average. These unsatisfactory educational outcomes now constitute the primary catalyst for changes in funding policy,” the MSU report says.

Whitmer’s funding proposal includes a 2.5 percent boost of $235 million in the base per-pupil funding mechanism. Every public school district in the state, including charters, receives an annual per-student allowance. The lowest level would increase from $7,871 to $8,051 under Whitmer’s proposal. That’s a $180 increase.

There’s also a new weighted funding model to take into account students with more expensive education needs like special education and “economically disadvantaged” students.

There’s $120 million more to reimburse special education services and $102 million more for at-risk students.

Whitmer’s proposal also includes a $50 million boost to career and technical education, as closing the “skills gap” has been one of her goals.

Much of the proposal is based on recommendations from the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative, according to the State Budget Office memo outlining the proposal.

Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, called Whitmer’s proposal “a huge step toward addressing this issue that’s been developing for decades.

“(R)esearch has shown that it doesn’t cost the same amount of money to educate every student, and this budget proposal reflects that reality,” Herbart continued. “Additional funding for at-risk, special education and career/technical education puts additional funds where they’re needed most to help all students achieve.”

In her first State of the State address last month, Whitmer declared the state’s education system to be one of the two major crises affecting the state. The other is roads and infrastructure.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Feb. 12, 2019 | Casey Hull

The education crisis has led to “the worst decline in childhood literacy in the nation,” Whitmer said.

“Since 2014, among states measured every year, Michigan has experienced the worst decline in childhood literacy. And the decline has been consistent across every racial and economic group in our state,” she said.

“Let’s be clear: This is not happening because Michigan kids are less talented. It’s not happening because our kids are less motivated. It’s not happening because our educators are less dedicated. It is happening because generations of leadership have failed them.”

Advance reporter Ken Coleman contributed to this story.

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.