Michigan Set To Increase Public School Funding

The Republican-led Michigan Senate approved a school funding bill to increase base school funding by 5%, but Democrats are pushing for more.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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The Republican-controlled Michigan Senate approved a 5% increase in base school funding during a legislative session on Wednesday, May 4th. Each state in the U.S. uses these formulas to determine how state funding should be distributed to each school district. Generally, district funding is a mixture of tax dollars raised on both the state and local city level, which in turn requires the state formula to adjust budgets based on the local share of school funding. 

According to a report from The Washington Post, Michigan’s school funding ranked moderately among its peers in 2020. The proposed 5% increase might end up changing that, but it still has a way to go before being fully approved. The total $17.8 billion school aid bill advanced mostly along party lines in a 20-15 vote, according to The Associated Press. The base per-student grant would rise by $450, bringing the total to $9,150 under the Senate’s proposal. 

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Additionally, the school funding bill presented a $500 million grant program. This effort would aid districts throughout the state set to merge next year. It is a measure being considered to avoid local governments from having to raise property taxes. Furthermore, these schools could get an additional $50 per student to address pandemic-related losses in schools.

For nearly two years, Michigan schools tirelessly worked to adapt to the ever-changing needs of parents, teachers, and students combined. All of this was on top of having to adhere to constantly changing federal and state regulations on how schools could operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote learning and continued temporary closures also lead to a hefty loss of educators in the state. To address this, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer pushed for more teacher aid in the school funding bill, among other things that were left out.

Despite the Democrats’ efforts to amend the school funding bill so that it would more closely align with what the governor had outlined back in February, supporters of this are still hopeful they can raise support. Previously, Whitmer had called for  $1 billion to also be spent on upgrading school infrastructure over the next six years. That measure failed to make its way into the legislation as well.

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As for support for teachers, the governor wanted $2.3 billion over the current fiscal year and the next school funding budget to attract more teachers to the state, and increase efforts to retain them over the long run. The plan would have included annual bonuses to teachers and support staff, competitive college scholarships, stipends for student teachers, and a “grow your own” grant program for local districts to support any staff that wishes to further their career and become certified teachers.  Currently, the school funding bill only left room for about $30 million directed at student teachers.

Democratic Senator Winnie Brinks from Grand Rapids voted against the Senate measure on school funding. She was staunchly against the Republican-led Senate’s decision failing to address additional retention and recruitment measures that would ensure teachers receive the “support and recognition they deserve.” Especially during such difficult and uncertain times.

The Democrats still have a chance to make changes to the funding formula, as many noted that nothing is concrete yet. The House is expected to further discuss and advance the proposal on May 5th. Given that the Republican party also controls the House chambers, it’s likely to become a futile venture to amend the school funding bill.