Schools chief warns of K-12 cuts; Whitmer joins marchers
LANSING — Michigan’s school superintendent said Thursday that K-12 districts are confronting the possibility of staggering spending cuts amid the coronavirus pandemic unless Congress helps fill a nearly $2.4 billion revenue shortfall over this budget year and next.
A divided state Supreme Court, meanwhile, declined to expedite an appeal in the Republican-led Legislature’s lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home restrictions. The governor, who has expressed fears that demonstrators are spreading the coronavirus, for the first time participated in a rally against police brutality — wearing a mask but not adhering to social distancing.
State Superintendent Michael Rice said the largest reduction in per-student funding under the current finance system came in 2011, at $470. A $1 billion cut to the school aid fund would result in $685 less per pupil, he said.
“Yet the cut could be even greater and substantially greater and much more harmful,” he told reporters.
Districts are facing a July 1 deadline to enact budgets for the coming academic year. The state likely will have to cut their payments without an additional federal relief bill or flexibility to use previously enacted federal aid to fill revenue holes.
“Congress is the only entity that has the capability of substantially sparing our children from very profound cuts,” Rice said.
The state high court voted 4-3 to deny lawmakers’ request to bypass the Court of Appeals and hear their suit contesting her use of emergency powers during the pandemic. Whitmer, who effectively won the case in the Court of Claims while the GOP took some comfort from one part of the ruling, had also asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
Justice Richard Bernstein noted that Whitmer earlier this week lifted her stay-home order.
“While recognizing that not all restrictions have been lessened (and acknowledging the possibility of future restrictions being reimplemented), I believe the parties and this Court would benefit most from having the vital constitutional issues of this case fully argued in the Court of Appeals before receiving a final determination from our Court,” he wrote. Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Justices Megan Cavanagh and Elizabeth Clement also agreed to wait.
Three justices, Stephen Markman, David Viviano and Brian Zahra, said the appeals court should be skipped.
“By our decision to deny the applications for bypass, we bypass an exercise of authority to decide what is perhaps the most substantial dispute ever presented to this Court, not only diminishing our standing among the judicial institutions of our federal system but diminishing our relevance within the judicial institutions of this state itself,” Markman wrote.
A mask-wearing Whitmer joined a peaceful march in Highland Park to honor George Floyd, whose death last week at the hands of Minneapolis police has prompted ongoing global protests. She drew criticism from some Republicans for not keeping 6 feet from others after she previously urged conservatives protesting her orders outside the Capitol to do that.
Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the governor wore a mask even though it is not required outdoors under her latest order. Whitmer did not violate the order, she said, because there is an exception for constitutionally protected expressive activities like peacefully protesting.
In online guidance about the order, however, the governor’s office says people participating in demonstrations must remain 6 feet away from people not in their household. The restriction is not known to have been enforced by police.
Brown said Whitmer attended “to show her support for peaceful demonstrations taking place across America, the need for action and to shine a light on the inequities black Michiganders face every day.”
The state health department reported 25 additional COVID-19 deaths, including 13 that occurred days or weeks before. The total was 5,595.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases, 318, dropped to the lowest point since March 25.
The state said campgrounds in state parks and recreation areas will open June 22, as Michigan moves to phase four of Whitmer’s restart plan. Camping in rustic state forests and overnight stays in Department of Natural Resources-managed harbors will resume next Wednesday.