Michigan students are poised to reap some of the biggest rewards of the latest state budget after Democratic lawmakers voted this week to unleash billions of dollars in new state funding for Michigan’s public schools.
LANSING—The latest state budget is different from business as usual in Lansing.
On Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers approved an $82 billion budget that centers largely on education. And it marked the first opportunity in decades that Democrats have had to craft a spending plan that reflects their legislative priorities.
The education portion of the budget—which was included in Senate Bill 173—passed the state Senate by a vote of 29-8 after Democratic lawmakers were able to garner support from enough Republicans for the spending plan to take effect by the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1.
The bill passed through the House in May, mostly along party lines, by a vote of 58-50. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign the legislation into law before the end of the week.
Included in the budget is a record-setting $24 billion in funding for Michigan’s schools as lawmakers and Whitmer’s administration look to remedy learning setbacks from the pandemic. Public schools will receive a 5% increase in per-pupil funding, in addition to a targeted, $205 million funding increase across the state, specifically for at-risk students who need extra help.
Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton), a former teacher and chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on PreK-12 Education, labeled the state education budget as “truly historic,” and said that Michigan is now “leading the nation when it comes to helping our at-risk students.”
“For the first time in decades, we have a budget that properly invests in our students, teachers and schools,” he said. “After listening to educators, parents and students in our communities, we crafted a budget that prioritizes our students who need the most support, incentives to keep educators in the classroom, and programs that will help build the schools of the future.”
Here’s a look at eight ways the latest state budget is investing in Michigan students:
1. Record-Setting Funding
Michigan’s public schools receive their state funding, in part, based on the number of students in their classrooms. This week’s budget boosts that funding to its highest point in state history: $9,608 per student. That’s an extra $458 (or 5%) per student compared to this year’s budget.
Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, said teachers were heartened to see yet another record-breaking level of per-student funding make its way into the budget.
“Investing in our schools and our students is the most effective thing state leaders can do when it comes to creating a brighter future for Michigan,” she said in a statement. “We are thrilled that next year’s budget will continue to build on the progress we’ve made these past few years.”
Herbart added: “We are without a doubt on the right path forward.”
Per-pupil funding has climbed 22% since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took office in 2019.
“The Make it in Michigan budget will build a bright future for our state,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I am so grateful to the new leadership in the legislature for getting this done.”
2. Free Preschool
The budget also includes $255 million to create free preschool offerings for 4-year-olds in Michigan—a plan first unveiled by Whitmer earlier this year that will help “parents, especially moms, go back to work,” she said. State officials estimate that up to 5,600 children will gain access to free preschool beginning next year—saving their families about $10,000 annually.
“This announcement is a reflection of the state’s continued focus on lowering costs for families, supporting early learning, and investing in the growth and retention of early childhood professionals in Michigan,” said Carrie Rosingana, CEO of Capital Area Michigan Works!
3. Getting Kids Back on Track
It’s no secret: The pandemic took a toll on Michigan’s students. Reports show that educational performance in the state has fallen steadily over the past decade—including in key areas like reading and math. But the latest state budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars to help.
In addition to a record-breaking level of per-pupil funding for Michigan schools, the budget includes a $205 million increase in funding for academically at-risk and economically disadvantaged students, which brings that annual funding to an all-time-high of $952 million.
Another $150 million was allocated for personal tutoring and additional academic support through the MI Kids Back on Track program, which Whitmer said will allow Michigan schools to double down on helping students who have fallen behind on their coursework in recent years.
Research has shown that tutoring can be a highly effective way to increase student achievement—especially for students from lower income families that were hit hardest by the pandemic. Those struggles were felt the hardest in urban districts with high poverty, like Detroit, so the budget also includes an extra $94 million for literacy programs at Detroit Public Schools.
The budget also includes $26 million to expand existing payments for literacy grants and coaches statewide, as well as another $25 million to support new math intervention programs.
4. Free Breakfast and Lunch
It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach. This year’s budget recognizes that—by including $160 million that will provide all 1.4 million Michigan public school students with free breakfast and lunch. It’s a move estimated to save the average Michigan family over $850 every year.
“Every student should be able to start their day with a nutritious meal so they can stay energized throughout the day and focus on class,” Whitmer said in a statement announcing the plan.
Statistics show that more than 70 million free school breakfasts were served to Michigan students last year. Expanding the state assistance program to include all students—regardless of their income—is designed to help fill the gap left by lapsed federal pandemic-era benefit programs, as well as address the strain on family budgets caused by rising food prices.
For parents who usually prepare breakfast in the morning, it’ll also save time before school.
“Healthy School Meals for All will be transformational for Michigan’s students and families,” said Collin McDonough, director of Michigan Government Relations at the American Heart Association. “Proper nutrition is a key component of a heart-healthy lifestyle, and having no-cost breakfast and lunch will ensure our students have what they need to succeed.”
5. Support for Teachers
Another $370 million included in the budget is designed to provide support for teachers through the MI Future Educator Program, which offers $10,000 annual scholarships to Michiganders studying to become teachers, as well as $9,600-per-semester stipends for student teachers.
The idea: Recruit more teachers into the classroom—and ensure they stay in Michigan.
“Our local schools will continue to make progress in attracting and retaining qualified educators who can help our students succeed,” Herbart added. “It’s critical that we keep great educators on the job and attract talented people into this noble profession, and this budget agreement provides our schools with much-needed resources to help accomplish these goals.”
6. Education Infrastructure
About $450 million was deposited into a new “rainy day” fund, allowing schools to set aside cash for future needs. The budget also left $100 million in school aid fund dollars unspent.
Additionally, the latest state education budget included about $125 million to fund matching grants for school districts to modernize their bus fleet by switching over to electric vehicles.
7. Supporting Student Success
Also in the budget: $328 million for new mental health resources for students and staff, as well as various building safety upgrades designed to keep students safe from potential threats.
Another $140 million will expand support for special education students, and $25 million will be used to upgrade equipment at career and technical education centers. A new $8 million program will also offer every fourth-grade student a field trip to a state park next year.
“There is a resounding appreciation for the education funding in this year’s state budget,” said Dr. Tina Kerr, director at the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. “It is essential that public education be funded at this level both now and in the future so that our schools can continue to prepare our students for their own success and for Michigan’s future.”
8. Higher Education & Workforce Development
Additional cash for vocational and career and technical training—and for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship—is also set to lower the cost of community, private, or public college by thousands of dollars for 80% of Michigan students, and make higher education free for about 65% of them.
Another $70 million will also allow the state to temporarily lower the eligibility age for the Michigan Reconnect program from 25 to 21, ultimately providing about 350,000 more Michiganders with access to a tuition-free associate degree or skills training in preparation for their future careers. Officials billed the move as a “game-changer” for those seeking degrees at community colleges.
Notably, the budget also includes $112 million to assist community colleges and universities in improving their existing facilities, infrastructure, technology, and campus security, as well as another $38 million aimed at improving retention and completion rates among Michigan’s college students.
“Investing in higher education is the surest path to prosperity for Michigan—and for future generations of young people who will become the leaders and innovators of tomorrow,” Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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