(Source: MIRS.news, Published 4/26/2023) Schools would receive at least $9,700 per pupil, 4-year-old preschool could be paid from the traditional K-12 foundation allowance, and universal free lunch and breakfast would start at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, under a School Aid Fund budget that moved out of a Senate subcommittee Wednesday morning.
The $20.76 billion spending plan also includes a sliding scale for the special pot of money set aside for "at-risk" schools, in which districts with higher concentrations of poverty would receive an additional 15.3% of the foundation allowance, compared to other "at-risk" schools, which would receive 11.5% more.
SB 173 also puts nearly $500 million more into special education. It replaces direct funding for school resource officers to a general mental health line-item, giving school districts a choice in how they address school safety. Whether it's officers, more counselors or general infrastructure upgrades, it would be up to the schools.
Senate K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) also put a premium on helping teachers and staff. They socked away $250 million to give intermediate school district staff who work directly with the students between $250 to $450 a month to help them pay off their college loan debt.
The Detroit Community School District is receiving $94.4 million promised by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer three years ago as part of the literacy settlement designed to help the school district's students learn how to read better under this plan.
Another $7.3 million is being set aside to pay the outstanding debt on the shuttered school district in Inkster, where the people are paying taxes with interest on a district that no longer exists.
There's a $100 million pilot grant program to increase teacher salaries, too.
"No teacher should take on considerable debt to help support our students," Camilleri said.
Overall, the Senate plan spends $131 million less than the Governor's proposal in February, as less revenue than expected comes into the state's coffers. But at $20.7 billion, the budget is still 6.2% larger than this year's.
The budget allows school districts to offer virtual class time on snow days or other days when classes can't be held in person, so districts would not need to automatically cancel school.
Like the Governor's, the Senate plan funds cyber-schools at 80% of the foundation allowance, which Amy Dunlap of the Michigan International Prep School said "drastically" cuts education funding for the roughly 21,000 students who learn online.
Dunlap questioned the assertion that cyber schools shouldn't be funded at the same level as traditional school districts because they don't have the same brick-and-mortar infrastructure.
"We do, though. We actually operate four learning labs across the state and that costs $400,000 a school year to fund those. That's shutting all of those down," Dunlap said. "We also offer mental health support for our students. That's going to shut those down."
After meeting with the cyber school groups, Camilleri said he still doesn't have a "clear understanding" of how cyber schools cost as much as traditional public schools with their numerous buildings, transportation costs and athletics.
"If there were other areas where I felt like they were providing better services for some students or from staff members, we'd be having a different conversation," he said.
The Governor had wanted $150 million for electric bus grants. The Senate is moving forward with $75 million. Both the Senate and the Governor support $202 million more for paying off long-term debt earlier than anticipated.
"You've done good," said Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia). "Sen. Camilleri has delivered on a K-12 budget that is bold and is forward-thinking."
Sen. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) put forward his own School Aid Fund bill that sinks $2 billion into paying down long-term debt, $286 million to improve security in public and non-public schools, $50 million for school resource officers, $300 million for learning loss recovery and $14,000-per student with $4 billion remaining on the balance sheet.
He said he found it "disappointing" that Camilleri struck out penalties for districts that make abortion referrals and don't notify parents of students seeking abortions.
All of the panel's five Democrats voted no on the Albert proposal, while Albert and fellow Republican Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) voted yes. On the Camilleri sub, the Republicans voted against sending it to the full Senate Appropriations Committee. The five Democrats voted yes.