(Source: MIRS.news, Published 02/07/2024) The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) would see a more than 74 percent drop in its funding between the current Fiscal Year and Fiscal Year (FY) 2025, under the Governor's proposal, as a sizable chunk of its authority is transferred to a brand new department.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's budget recommendations were disclosed this morning as she presented her requests to the Senate and House Appropriations Committees. If her changes were executed, the MDE would receive $162.8 million, a more than $484.5 million reduction from its current budget. Meanwhile, the developing department Whitmer created in a July 2023 executive order – the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential (MiLEAP) – would get more than $516.9 million in gross funding under her recommendations.
Major programs MiLEAP would oversee under the Governor's suggestions would include $60 million from the General Fund for a child care benefits pilot program dedicated to offsetting the personal child care costs of child care workers.
It would also oversee $37.9 million – $19 million originating from the General Fund – to increase government-funded rates to childcare providers by 10 percent, as well as $8.5 million to boost rates by 30 percent for child care providers looking after youths in foster care.
The intent behind MiLEAP is to establish a department specifically dedicated to resources for child care and early education for youths prior to kindergarten, and focused on making post-high school opportunities for job training more accessible.
However, following the Governor's executive order to set up MiLEAP, State Superintendent Michael RICE – the head of the MDE – submitted a letter of concern to Attorney General Dana Nessel, after being requested to do so by the State Board of Education through a resolution.
The resolution adopted by the State Board of Education, which is linked to the department, pointed out that it's the board's constitutional duty to lead and generally supervise all public education in Michigan – including adult education and instructional programs – existing outside of higher educational institutes that grant baccalaureate degrees.
"As the State Board of Education's motion notes, there appear now to be potentially two departments with overlapping authority over 'all public education,' particularly preschool public education," Rice said in his letter, which prompted a response from Nessel that Whitmer's executive order to create MiLEAP "is clearly not unconstitutional on its face" as it calls for cooperation between the new department and the board of education.
After her presentation to legislators today, Whitmer answered that in Michigan's latest MiLEAP-era, the MDE will still have an important role, but she says ensuring that Michigan is coordinated in an effort to up-skill its population and level barriers to workforce skills, necessitated a new kind of state government structure.
"I appreciate the work that the state Department of Education does. They continue to be an important part of our success in this realm, but this was really motivated by recognizing that an antiquated, disparate structure doesn't serve any of our goals, and that's true for the department, as well," Whitmer said.
The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity also saw some of its functions transferred to MiLEAP, like the Michigan Reconnect and the 60 by 30 programs – altogether supported by $68.67 million in this current fiscal year – for connecting 21-year-olds and older Michiganders with free community college opportunities and for having 60 percent of the state's working-age adult population equipped with a skill certificate or college degree by 2030.
However, LEO would see a 31.2 percent drop in its current FY '24 funding under the Governor's proposal.
Meanwhile, the $430.9 million Office of Great Start, which focuses on promoting pre-school in "high need" communities, was transferred from MDE to MiLEAP, representing the main cause of MDE’s suggested funding fall off.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) will be overseeing the MiLEAP budget as opposed to having a separate appropriations subcommittee chair do it.
"I am looking not just in the next one to two to three years. What does the future of education look like in our state?" Anthony asked rhetorically. "The verdict is still out on what MiLEAP will even look like. So over the next few months, you'll see at the full approps committee – that's where we're going to be addressing MiLEAP, because it does touch multiple departments."
Anthony said today was the first time she's actually seen many of the numbers at-hand, adding that the proposed reduction to MDE funding does seem "somewhat jarring."
"But, I want to see if it's justifiable," she said.