Whitmer signs ‘transformative’ $24.2B Michigan education budget. What to know

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer surrounded by children

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 173, the state’s budget for public schools, community colleges and higher education on Thursday, July 20. (Courtesy photo)

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the state school budget into law Thursday
  • The budget includes more funding for students deemed ‘at-risk’ of meeting educational goals
  • Michigan teacher unions may soon have more say in teacher placement and evaluations 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a $24.3 billion school budget Thursday that funds public K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. 

The budget received some bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

“This budget was written to help anyone and everyone be able to make it here in Michigan with a strong academic foundation that starts early and continues through higher education and beyond,” Whitmer said at a bill signing event Thursday afternoon. “We must be lifelong learners.”

Since taking control of the legislature, Michigan Democrats have amended the state’s third-grade reading law and proposed expanding teacher unions’ bargaining rights on which classes teachers teach and how they are evaluated. 

Whitmer is creating a new state education department and leaders are waiting to see if a new state scholarship program proposed under Republican leadership last year will boost college enrollment in fall 2023. 

The new education budget also increases the amount of money schools will receive for students who receive special education services, are English language learners or are economically disadvantaged. 

“In terms of this budget, it is in many ways transformative,” said Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, which represents 123 Southeast Michigan school districts. 

McCann said practically speaking, some students cost more to educate than others and schools have had to use their per pupil funding to cover the costs of other students. But the new budget with increased funding for these student groups helps alleviate that concern.

Michigan still has more work in terms of properly funding public education, McCann said, but the new budget is a “significant step in the right direction.”

Here are five more things to know. 

Increased per pupil funding for most public school students

The new budget includes a 5 percent increase in the school “foundation allowance,” which is the base amount schools receive per student.  School districts will receive $9,608 for each K-12 student in the 2023-24 school year, an increase of $458. 

The same increase will not be available to virtual charter schools, which will continue to receive $9,150 per student. 

Schools will also receive extra per pupil funding for economically disadvantaged students, English language learners and students who receive special education. The state is also now considering a community’s concentration of poverty to determine how much additional per pupil funding a district receives. 

The budget also funds free school meals for all students, expands eligibility for the state’s pre-K program and per pupil funding for tutoring. It also provides $66.4 million for a teacher recruitment, training and retention initiative called Talent Together

The group of 48 intermediate school districts will pair people interested in becoming teachers with university preparation programs, mentors who are current teachers and job opportunities. The program is open to both people already working in schools and those interested in working in a school as a certified teacher.

The state is also investing funds to help districts train existing school workers to become teachers and pay for student teachers. 

“Our vision is ambitious but achievable: make Michigan the best state to become a teacher,” Whitmer said at the Thursday event. “That’s our goal. Because when we do that, we get the best educated kids.”

Expanding union rights to have a say in placement and evaluation

Michigan Democrats have proposed a series of changes that would increase teacher unions’ ability to bargain over their classroom placements and evaluations. The changes would reverse several reforms put in place in 2011when Republicans led the legislature.

School district leaders are opposed to the bills saying that the reform would hamper administrators ability to make the best staffing decisions for the whole school or district. 

Republicans have said the changes will lead to school districts returning to a time where teacher staffing decisions are based on employee seniority. Democrats passed a bill aimed to address the seniority concern but school leaders say they are still concerned about the ramifications of these labor bills.

The bills have been presented to the governor but the governor has not signed them yet. 

Democrats are also eying changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system. 

Removing rules about holding third-grade students back

Earlier this year, lawmakers removed the requirement that Michigan third-graders struggling with reading repeat the third grade. Whitmer signed the bill into law in March. 

Only a small proportion of students who tested a grade or more behind in reading were actually held back under the prior version of the law because of several allowable exemptions including parents requesting students be advanced to the fourth grade.

Districts can still choose to hold individual students back. Democrats have contended that holding students back can lead to social stigma and is not an effective tool alone to ensure students are reading on grade level. 

The law, which will likely take effect in the spring, still outlines different supports schools should provide students who are behind in reading. 

Generally, Democrats supported the bill but a few Republicans also voted in favor of removing the retention requirement. 

Creating a new education department

Whitmer announced last week the creation of the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential, or MiLEAP. The group will focus on preK-12 schooling and higher education.

The department will be made up of three offices: early childhood education, higher education, and education partnerships. It will be led by a state-appointed director.

MiLEAP will lead initiatives currently housed in other state agencies, including the state’s free Pre-K program for students from low-income families.

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