Michigan House Approves $65B Budget Plan with ‘Win’ for Schools as Deadline Looms

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The Detroit News
June 24, 2021
Beth Leblanc and Craig Mauger

The Michigan House voted Thursday night to approve a tentative $64.7 billion budget with a significant funding boost for schools just a week before a self-imposed deadline to OK the state’s next spending plan.

The votes come amid ongoing negotiations with the Senate, which is not yet on board with the House proposal. While both chambers are controlled by Republicans, uncertainty looms over whether the Senate will sign off on the House budget proposal and send it to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer next Wednesday before departing on summer break.

The House-backed budget plan, which doesn’t yet include funding bills for community colleges and universities, would increase funding 8% for K-12 schools to $16.7 billion. Schools’ foundation allowance funding would increase $683 million through a formula that would provide at least $8,700 per-student across the board, ending a decades-long funding gap between districts.

The budget marks an important step in ensuring Michigan families, workers and students are able to “get their lives back on track,” said House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell.

“This plan helps workers get back on the job,” Wentworth said in a statement. “It helps kids get back in the classroom, and it helps restart critical government services that had been put on hold over the past year. This is the budget Michigan families have been asking us to deliver.”

Whitmer also celebrated the bill’s passage and said it would continue “Michigan’s economic jumpstart.”

“This framework is a strong start and proposes historic investments in public education, bumps up pay for direct care workers, and puts more people on tuition-free paths to higher education and skills training,” Whitmer said in a statement.

The budgets create “transformational changes” that will help schools and students into the fall and beyond, said Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit.

“These budgets — just like any policy — they’re not perfect, but we want to move the ball forward, we want to move and progress,” Tate said.

The proposal is a “huge win” for schools, said Peter Spadafore, deputy executive director for external relations for the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators.

“We encourage yes votes in the House and quick adoption in Senate,” Spadafore said.

The negotiations in Lansing between the House and Senate have been rocky in recent days as lawmakers have disagreed on how to balance the normal budget process — the next fiscal year doesn’t begin until Oct. 1 — with billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money that is also available to the state. Negotiations were complicated further Thursday when the House’s budget leader, House Appropriations Chairman Thomas Albert, was called away because his wife went into labor with twins.

Still, the bills passed the House with significant support. The $16.7 billion school aid fund budget passed 105-3 and the $48 billion general omnibus budget passed 104-4.

Under current law, the Legislature is supposed to approve a budget by July 1, which is also the date when Michigan school districts’ fiscal years usually begin. But lawmakers could change that deadline for the House and Senate budget votes. The Senate is scheduled to meet Wednesday, a day before July 1, before leaving on summer break.

The House proposal also ensures every school gets a minimum of $1,093 per pupil in pandemic relief and pushes $560 million toward debt payments in the Michigan Public Schools’ Employees Retirement System.

The House’s proposed $48 billion general omnibus budget would ease most of the cuts the House placed in its initial budget proposal, bringing department budgets largely in line with current year totals.

But the omnibus budget adds language that Whitmer is expected to oppose. Included in the so-called “boilerplate” language are a ban on departments requiring a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for state services and requirements for the preparation of reports on any severance pay agreements and remote work arrangements.

Early Thursday afternoon, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland, said his understanding was the House was putting together a budget plan it would send to the Senate. That’s different than the normal operating process where the House and Senate negotiate a budget together.

“(I’m) anxious to see what it has in it,” Stamas said of the House proposal. “It’s not something that has been shared with us yet. (We’ll) take a look at it and see where we can go from there.”

Stamas told reporters Thursday that he hadn’t met in person with Albert, R-Lowell, for a week. The House and Senate have disagreed in recent days over a $4.3 billion supplemental spending bill.

Last week, the Senate voted 35-0 to pass the education bill, which featured $840 million for school districts provided through the December round of coronavirus relief, signed by then-President Donald Trump, and $3.3 billion for districts through the March round of relief, signed by President Joe Biden. Under the federal legislation, the money would primarily go to districts with large numbers of students from low-income families.

The House wanted money for “equalization” payments, using other federal relief funds, to ensure every district received a certain amount per pupil. In a prior proposal, lawmakers proposed $362 million for a minimum of $1,093 per student. Stamas said he wanted to include the “equalization” discussion within the larger talks over the school budget for next year.

The House on Thursday also voted 105-3 to approve the $4.3 billion education supplement, reaching somewhat of a compromise by including the equalization payments in the general budget and giving the money “immediate effect.”

Stamas said he wants to continue to try to meet the July 1 deadline.

“I have committed to the speaker to continue to look at what is sent over,” he said.

Whitmer said Wednesday that Stamas and Albert were participating in “regular and robust conversations” with state budget Director Dave Massaron. There are different priorities for the spending plan, Whitmer said, but both sides of the aisle recognize an economic need and opportunity.

“I would love to see this get done by the end of the month, at least the budget piece, maybe not all of the federal dollars,” Whitmer said. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I think that there are different viewpoints in the Legislature on that front.”

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