What was almost unimaginable during last spring’s first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has come to fruition: Michigan’s school aid budget has not only hit record highs – again – but has done with wide margins. Depending on whether the manna in federal money is counted, the peak in funding begins either during this fiscal year or during the following one.
The first months of the COVID-induced lockdowns have resulted in projections of significant tax revenue losses and proposals to tighten the state’s budget belt. But a sharp rebound in state tax revenues and a series of growing federal bailouts have instead brought billions of new dollars to Michigan’s public schools.
By passing Bill 4411 last week, the state legislature both approved the 2021-22 school aid budget and set aside the last of the federal COVID money during the fiscal year. In progress. By adding these one-time dollars, this year’s budget will be 35% more than 2019-2020 and almost 47% more than two years ago. More than a third of school income this year comes from Washington. The resulting $ 21.7 billion far exceeds any school aid budget in Michigan history, including the record budget passed last September.
The 2021-2022 school aid budget amounts to $ 17.1 billion, technically a reduction. But counting only the dollars collected by the treasury, K-12 spending is expected to increase by 8%. The state Senate appropriation chairman called the new budget a “game changer.” This rhetoric may sound exaggerated, but it fits better now than it was two years ago, when union leaders repeatedly used it to praise Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s first education budget. Counting only state funds, his 2019 proposal offered a 4% increase.
Recently, lawmakers have been acclaimed for closing the foundation allowance gap, and rightly so. This is a positive step in ensuring that all charter schools and nearly all districts will receive the same guaranteed minimum per student funding of $ 8,700. (A few dozen harmless districts will continue to attract more per student based on local elections held years ago.)
The repeal of the 75-25 formula received less attention in budget legislation last week. The state will stop funding districts based primarily on the number of students from the previous year. This may mean that school officials are banking on a rebound in enrollment after a sharp drop in 2020. Either way, sending funds to where students are currently enrolled is more sensible and effective policy than policy. adopted during the pandemic.
Although the base allowance has dominated the news on school finances, it does not include almost everything that districts receive. Lawmakers set aside an additional $ 5 billion in public funds for various purposes in addition to federal money. Add in the various local taxes and revenues that school districts will collect, and Michigan is set to surpass its 2020 record in revenue per student. It all depends on the denominator of the per student ratio: the number of students who show up in public school classrooms and log into virtual programs in October.
As the legislature approved the record-breaking school aid budget, advocates for increased spending have adopted an optimistic tone. âEducators now have the funding and the guidance they need to get down to work on what really matters,â Ken Gutman of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan told MLive. This work should begin with attempts to regain the trust of thousands of frustrated parents, many of whom are being forced to remove their children from ineffective distance education programs.
Last year’s fear of running out of funding now seems to be a strange and distant memory. Watching eyes will now follow where this unprecedented amount of money is going and whether it will make a difference for students and families.
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