New funding: Whitmer signs $17 billion school aid fund budget

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Kari Henquinet, a parent in the Houghton-Portage Township Schools, addresses the board regarding the return of live instruction during its monthly meeting in July 2020. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the School Aid Fund budget into law Tuesday.

GRAND RAPIDS — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the School Aid Fund budget into law on Tuesday in the presence of students, educators, and school administrators at Kentwood Public Schools, a release from her office stated.

The signing of House Bill 4411 marks what she calls a historic moment for the state by reaching the goal of eliminating the funding gap between districts at the minimum and maximum foundation allowances, as set forth by Proposal A of 1994. The bill finalizes the fiscal year 2022 School Aid budget, which totals $17.1 billion. This includes $85.4 million from the state’s general fund, and provides cost adjustments, and supplemental funding, for the current 2021 year.

The budget is regarded as significant, because it closes the K-12 per-pupil gap among some school districts in Michigan. The latest budget hikes per-pupil funding in the state to $8,700.

The bipartisan House bill, which is said to have been 27 years in the making, will fund things like school supplies, facility updates, hiring of teachers and mental health services.

“We’ve been especially focused on closing the funding gap between school districts in the last few budget cycles,” Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12 and Michigan Department of Education is quoted as saying. “On top of providing additional resources that will help teachers in the classroom and help students get back on track as we work to emerge from the pandemic, this bipartisan budget would increase per-pupil funding and ensure every school district across Michigan will receive the same amount in minimum per-pupil foundation allowance funding from the state. I’m happy we’ve finally been able to reach this milestone that levels the playing field for all Michigan students.”

In addition to closing the gap, and increasing access to preschool programing, the 2022 School Aid Budget makes strategic investments as follows:

– The budget recognizes the need for additional school counselors, psychologists, nurses, and social workers by providing $240 million over three years for additional hirings in high-need districts. After three years, these new hires are fully funded in an ongoing manner by the district.

– The mental health of our students continues to be a top priority. This budget provides an increase of $17 million to support school-based mental health programming which will help ensure our students have access to the resources they need to live happy and healthy lives.

– Additional investments for special education in the amount of $74.2 million will ensure our students and educators can excel in the classroom.

– The budget also provides funds for students who need them the most through a weighted funding formula which distributes education dollars more equitably:

– Maintains funding for economically disadvantaged and adds $1.5 million for dental screenings.

– Supports for English Language Learners are increased by 4% and proration of funding is eliminated with an investment of $12.2 million.

– Small, rural, and isolated districts receive a $1.4 million increase, bringing total added funding to $8.4 million.

– The budget incentivizes districts to adopt a year-round school calendar by helping to provide for HVAC and infrastructure improvements that will improve learning spaces. An investment of $75 million in federal funding will assist in providing matching grants and $60 million from the School Aid Fund will increase foundation allowances for eligible districts by 3% for three years.

– To better gauge student progress and intervention needs, the budget includes $11.5 million for benchmark assessments.

– The budget includes $10 million to support school safety initiatives. Funding provides up to $50,000 per school building or $250,000 per school district.

– Support for children impacted by the drinking water emergency in Flint is increased by $2.4 million.

State Superintendent Michael Rice said that every budget is about the choices.

“This budget expands Great Start Readiness Program pre-kindergarten and puts in place a three-year plan to move to universal pre-kindergarten for all eligible students,” said Rice, “the first goal of the state’s Top 10 strategic education plan and a gift that will keep on giving throughout the education and lives of our children.”

The budget also improves school funding adequacy, part of the eighth goal of the state’s Top 10 strategic education plan in a state that has profoundly underfunded public education for the last two decades, Rice went on to say. Finally, the budget provides more funding for student mental health, part of the third goal of the state’s Top 10 strategic education plan.

Whitmer said she is also extremely proud of this budget, because it expands access to the homegrown preschool program, the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) for every eligible 4-year-old.

Before Tuesday, 22,000 Michigan children were eligible for the program, but could not be served due to a lack of funds. Many were on waiting lists without ever having a spot in the program become available to them.

“Twenty-two thousand more kids will get to learn and grow and play in a safe environment,” she said. “It means thousands of parents will get to go to work with the peace of mind knowing that their kids are cared for without forcing them to choose between paying the rent or paying for childcare.”


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