Whitmer signs bills to pay off school debt and fund roads

By Michigan Advance

December 19, 2023

BY JON KING, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—A $615.6 million supplemental spending bill for road and bridge projects across the state, debt relief to several school districts and projects on university campuses was signed Monday in Kalamazoo by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Across Michigan, we are lowering costs for families, fixing the damn roads, and ensuring every student can get a quality education,” said Whitmer in a statement. “I look forward to working with my legislative partners to build on the work we’ve done and continue lowering costs, creating jobs, and helping more people build a bright future right here in Michigan.”

House Bill 4292, sponsored by state Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.), passed the legislature in early November and appropriates $339.8 million for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget that ended Oct. 1, and an additional $275.8 for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget.

“Bottomline, this legislation promotes better educational opportunities for students and relieves years of financial strain that has limited many Michigan school districts,” Brabec said. “We must continue to safeguard Michigan’s future by ensuring our schools, teachers and students are receiving the investments that uplift them. We will continue to put all people first in a multitude of ways—today is just another reminder of that.”

According to a House Fiscal Agency analysis, more than one-third of the total appropriation, $234.1 million, is funding from the Federal Highway Administration that will be used for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) for state trunkline road and bridge construction.

Another $114.1 million would be used for debt relief for local school districts affected by financial emergencies, dissolution or consolidation.

“This supplemental budget is full of future-focused investments that maintain and modernize that which we hold dear,” said Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). “Budgets are one of the most important tools we have to help bring our values to life, and with these bills, Michigan residents will know that we’re advocating for them and their families, the health and safety of our kids, an infrastructure that meets communities’ needs, and to make sure we’re ready for the challenges and demands of tomorrow.”

One of the districts receiving debt relief is the Pontiac School District, which will receive up to $18.3 million to pay an outstanding emergency loan balance.

“We are grateful to Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature for the passing of this bill,” said Kelley Williams, superintendent of Pontiac School District. “Our district has worked tirelessly to eliminate our debt. Receiving these funds allows us to now free up money in our General Fund to provide important resources for our students and staff. Consequently, we are proud to be able to say that Pontiac School District is now debt free.”

Other districts getting debt relief are:

  • The Muskegon Heights School District, which will receive up to $31.3 million to pay an outstanding emergency loan balance, as well as outstanding balances on a school bond loan fund, school loan revolving fund, and other debt obligations.
  • The former Willow Run Community Schools, which will receive up to $19.36 million to pay off outstanding bonds or the balance on a school loan revolving fund.Inkster Schools, which gets up to $12.1 million to pay outstanding school bond loan fund balances or school loan revolving fund balances.
  • Benton Harbor Area Schools, which will receive up to $10.02 million to pay an outstanding emergency loan balance.
  • Ypsilanti Community Schools, which will get up to $5.5 million to pay the outstanding long-term limited tax debt held by the Michigan Finance Authority.

The bills also make it easier for students to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and receive the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, which went into effect this fall, estimated to save 80% of students thousands of dollars on their college degrees.

“I am proud to see this supplemental funding bill passed into law, which is focused on the wellbeing of our students, educators and schools,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing). “Building on the momentum of this year’s historic state budget, our equitable supplemental focuses on enhancing access to clean drinking water, settling school debt in high-need districts and ensuring fiscal responsibility by closing the books and paying off debts.”

The bills also fund on-campus projects at Michigan community colleges and public universities, including the Blue Dot Lab, a technology and digital literacy center at Grand Valley State University, centers for entrepreneurship and innovation at Northern Michigan University and University of Michigan-Flint, tech and engineering buildings at Eastern Michigan University and Mott and Macomb Community Colleges, and science buildings at Oakland University and Saginaw Valley State University.

Northern Michigan University President Brock Tessman said the funding will benefit not only that institution, but the northern Michigan region, as well.

“This new facility will bring our fastest growing programs into the heart of campus, providing students better access to valuable support services,” said Tessman. “But equally important, it will enable us to collaborate with local entrepreneurs and business and industry partners, creating additional internship and work scholar opportunities. We know students are more successful in the marketplace when they have hands-on learning experiences. We also know there’s a talent shortage in the UP.  NMU is working on its plan to be a primary resource to help with the Upper Peninsula’s talent shortage, and this facility is an integral part of this plan.”

The bills also fund the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential (MiLEAP), a new state agency Whitmer created that’s tasked with improving outcomes for kids from preschool through postsecondary, and invest in primary health care service for children and young adults in schools.

“As evidenced by the work of the Growing Michigan Together Council, we need to more fully fund our universities and community colleges in order to develop the talent of our state and attract young people from all over the world. Today’s signing of these bills does just that,” said state Rep. Natalie Price (D-Berkley), chair of the House Appropriations Joint Capital Outlay Subcommittee. “By investing in the infrastructure of our higher education campuses, we begin to make Michigan a more competitive state.” 

And a $30 million appropriation will fund portions of the agreement between the city of Highland Park and the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) to replace its aging water system and reduce water loss, while ensuring accurate water bills through the installation of water meters.

“This is a hugely important step for Highland Park residents and everyone within the GLWA system,” said state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit). “Access to water is critical for every Michigan community. By sending state funding to fix Highland Park’s water infrastructure, we are moving the whole GLWA system toward a stronger, more fiscally sustainable future. Highland Park residents have long called for a resolution to this issue and I am very proud to have been a part of making this happen.”

READ MORE: Michigan Dems pass bill to erase millions in school debt

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 

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