Here’s what’s in the Whitmer budget for schools after being rocked by COVID

By: - February 12, 2021 7:21 am

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After a tough year for students during the pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday announced a budget proposal that includes what she says is the largest investment in K-12 schools in Michigan history, as well as funds to expand post-secondary programs and childcare.

Whitmer’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 plan released Thursday offers $14.7 billion investment for the School Aid Fund, which primarily funds K-12 education, but relies heavily on one-time spending for certain programs.

Schools, teachers and students have been especially hard-hit by the COVID pandemic. School buildings were closed in March until the end of the 2019-20 school year, and many schools have remained at least partially virtual through this current school year. 

Whitmer is pushing for all schools in the state to reopen for in-person learning by March 1. Because of the need to purchase personal protective equipment, improve school infrastructure and adjust technology needs for virtual learning, school budgets were strained to meet the needs created by the pandemic. 

“Our children have adapted to changing circumstances in remarkable ways, and we need to do our part to make sure that they have the support that they need,” Whitmer said during a press conference Thursday. 

She said her budget proposal focuses on improving the educational system from childcare up to post-secondary education programs.

Expanding eligibility for childcare 

The budget proposal includes $370 million for the expansion of childcare options and temporarily increases the income eligibility threshold from 150% to 200% through 2022. 

State Budget Director David Massaron told lawmakers that this change could expand eligibility for an estimated 150,000 children. 

The budget also waives out-of-pocket copays for childcare through FY 2022 and offers a 10% hourly pay increase for childcare providers.

“I am particularly proud of this piece because we know the impact that COVID has had on women and working moms. They bore the brunt of this economic pain during this pandemic,” Whitmer said. 

Whitmer said that ]women, especially women of color, have been hit hardest by coronavirus layoffs, noting that nationally a total of 2.4 million women, disproportionately women of color, have left the workforce since February 2020.

“By making a sizable investment in childcare, we can help alleviate the burden faced by working families here in Michigan, especially women, and specifically women of color, who have had to make countless sacrifices to put food on the table and care for their kids. So this investment is a good start,” Whitmer said. 

There is also an allocation of $32 million for the Great Start Readiness Program, which is Michigan’s state-funded preschool program for 4-year-old children at-risk of educational failure.

This increases the funding for a full-day preschooler from $7,250 to $8,275.

Supporting equity in K-12 schools 

In her last budget plan, Whitmer pushed for a weighted funding formula for economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, special education students, and students in rural and isolated districts, which is again a part of her FY 2022 budget. 

For these students, there will be an increase of 2%, totaling $14.1 million.

The budget proposed $203 million to increase per-pupil funding, based on a weighted formula to reduce the equity gap between highest- and lowest-funded schools. 

Lower-funded districts will receive a $164 per-pupil increase, a 2% increase, and higher-funded districts will receive an $82 per-pupil increase, a 1% increase. 

Due to concerns over learning loss from missed education in the spring and virtual learning this fall and winter, Whitmer is also proposing $250 million in one-time supplemental funding for research-based best practices to support student academic recovery, physical and mental health and post-secondary readiness and transition.

Many districts also saw a decline in enrollment in the 2020-21 school year, so Whitmer is proposing a $200 million one-time funding to help stabilize budgets for districts experiencing losses in FY 2022. 

Under the governor’s plan, public schools will also get $38.9 million and nonpublic schools will get $86.8 million funding to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on students.

Other notable initiatives for K-12 schools in the Whitmer’s budget include $120 million for summer learning, after-school learning, day camps and other activities, $55 million for the Filters First program to begin statewide implementation of drinking water fixture replacement and $2.9 million to address the educator shortage, provide more supports for current teachers and recruit former and future educators.  

The state’s largest teachers’ union praised Whitmer’s plan.

“Gov. Whitmer has once again shown her commitment to public education by proposing the largest investment in public schools in Michigan history. Increased per-pupil support is badly needed after decades of inadequately funding public education in our state,” Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart said. “We call on the Legislature not only to support today’s budget recommendations, but to also immediately and fully distribute federal COVID relief funding available for students and educators … Delays fueled by partisan politics won’t be tolerated by parents, school employees and taxpayers who believe this funding needs to be distributed as the federal government intended.”

Post-secondary education and programs 

To address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmer’s budget also includes a number of funding increases and allocations for post-secondary education, economic growth and talent development.

Universities and community colleges could see a one-time increase equal to 2% of operations funding. 

There is also an additional $70 million in one-time support for post-secondary institutions that implement policies related to COVID-19 testing, quarantining and contact tracing.

Whitmer has also pushed for programs part of her goal to help 60% of the state’s residents attain a post-high school credential by 2030, and those programs would see one-time funding under her budget plan. 

“In the past, I’ve outlined my administration’s broader ‘60 by 30’ goals … This budget takes tangible steps to meet that target, which is now less than a decade away, we can make that a reality,” Whitmer said. “So how do we do that? By putting nearly $200 million toward programs that help Michiganders access professional certificates, skills training and higher education, we can boost their career opportunities amidst an economic downturn.”

Education priorities in the budget are:

  • $120 million one-time funding for the Reconnect program to provide a tuition-free pathway for adults
  • $60 million one-time fund for the Futures for Frontliners to provide free community college tuition to frontline health care workers and expand the program to include those newly unemployed from November 2020 to January 2021
  • $15 million one-time increase for the Going Pro program to expand employer-based training grants for industry-recognized credentials and certificates
  • $3 million for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs
  • $25 million one-time for the Mobility Futures Initiative to support a new statewide collaboration that addresses environmental sustainability, connected and autonomous vehicle deployment, economic and workforce development and the alleviation of systemic mobility inequities in underserved communities
  • $1 million one-time for Focus: HOPE to support workforce development, youth development and community empowerment and advocacy programs 


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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.