Teachers, Whitmer rally for K-12 funding
LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rallied with teachers on Tuesday to push for a sizable boost in school spending, saying a “failure” in the Capitol has contributed to worsening educational outcomes for Michigan kids.
The Democrat, who is at odds with Republican legislative leaders over the next state budget, called on educators to help pressure lawmakers to back her education plan.
It would pump $526 million, or 3.5%, more into the K-12 budget, which would be the largest increase in classroom spending in 18 years when retirement costs are not counted. Funding would rise between $203 million and $395 million under House and Senate proposals, or 1.4% and 2.7%. The most recent annual U.S. inflation rate was 1.8%.
The legislative blueprints also do not include her call to shift to a “weighted” formula to account for extra costs to educate certain students.
“Our outcomes and our challenges are because of a failure in this building behind me, not because of our children and not because of our educators,” Whitmer said at a demonstration attended by an estimated 1,200 people who wore red shirts and chanted “fund our schools!”
Robert Gaines, an education paraprofessional in Farmington Public Schools, said educators are done asking for funds and are demanding them instead.
“We can’t believe in the future if we don’t invest in the future,” he said. “And if we don’t invest in the future today, then tomorrow we will have nothing.”
It appears likely that for the first time in a decade, school districts will not know their state funding by July 1 — the start of their fiscal year — complicating their ability to set operating budgets.
“I think that we’re doing everyone a disservice by not staying here and getting the work done until we can tell schools what to plan on for the fall,” Whitmer said.
After next week, the Legislature is scheduled to have tentative session days in July and August while high-level talks continue on road funding and the budget. The state’s fiscal year does not begin until October.
Educators are calling for a big funding boost at a time when Michigan students are lagging behind their peers in other states in reading and math, and following a period in which Michigan’s growth in K-12 spending trailed every other state’s over a 20-year period.
Republican lawmakers defended their school-spending proposals.
Sen. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, who chairs the Senate’s K-12 budget subcommittee, said the Senate plan would provide a record amount of school funding.
“As we see Michigan getting back on its feet, we’re putting money back into education,” he said. “But we’re making sure that those hard-working families that are sending their kids to schools … can pay their other bills, too. We’re doing it within the means we have — not, you know, pie-in-the-sky funding levels that don’t exist.”
The centerpiece of Whitmer’s overall budget proposal is a 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax increase, which would raise $2.5 billion to both fix the roads and free up funds that could be used for other priorities such as a larger-than-normal K-12 increase and her proposed scholarship program for college students. The tax hike has been rejected by GOP legislators.
Whitmer on Tuesday criticized a House-passed plan that would shift sales tax collected at the pump to roads, despite Republicans’ assurances that schools and local governments now getting the revenue would be held harmless.
“Businesses and families are telling us that we’ve got to close the skills gap and rebuild our infrastructure,” she said. “We can’t steal from one to do the other. We have to do them both.”