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Budget tackles pressing needs

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and new State Budget Director Dave Massaron released their 2022 budget proposal.

The state budget is a big area of focus for the Michigan League for Public Policy each year and a big avenue for our policy wins each year. The League has always said that the state budget is an indicator of our values, and that is truer than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its various impacts on our economy, schools, and residents.

While the state budget is still a values statement, the budget is also the blueprint for getting our state and our fellow Michiganders through this crisis. And, with that end in mind, there’s a lot to like in Gov. Whitmer’s 2022 budget for Michigan kids, parents, and workers.

We appreciate Gov. Whitmer’s continued commitment to promoting equity for all residents in the state’s approaches, policies, and funding priorities, including in her 2022 budget proposal. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare longstanding health disparities, and the governor continues to call for targeted and strategic investments to help improve the experiences and outcomes of all residents.

Education continues to be a top and necessary priority, with major investments proposed in child care and preschool, K-12 schools, and higher education and skills training for adults and frontline workers.

The budget includes an incredible and much-appreciated recognition of the importance of child care, both in this moment and perennially, significantly increasing the income eligibility level for the state’s child care subsidy, as well as increasing rate payments for child care providers.

Child care lays the foundation for children’s development and future education, but it is also a cornerstone of a solid workforce because it enables parents to work. That funding is vital to help stabilize Michigan families and the child care industry as a whole. A lot more still needs to be done to stabilize access to care for infants and toddlers, and the League will continue to work with parents, partners, and policymakers of all political persuasions to make sure child care continues to be rightfully prioritized and funded.

At the K-12 level, the governor is working hard to address the COVID-19 fallout for our schools and students, investing in a number of proposals to help counter learning loss, tackle challenges for specific groups of students, and limit the impact of current fluctuation in student populations. But policymakers should still consider fully funding the At-Risk School Aid program and providing more adequate funding for a weighted School Aid funding formula that directs more money to support students in poverty, English-language learners, and children with special needs.

The budget also continues investments in a number of important programs to help provide education and training opportunities for the state’s workers, including Michigan Reconnect, Going Pro, and Futures for Frontliners. As much talk as there is about talent attraction and retention, policymakers must not overlook the potential our existing workforce has. They just need a chance. And those programs not only offer workers a chance at a better opportunity, but a boost toward making it a reality by reducing and eliminating the overwhelming costs of a college degree, trade certification, or skills training.

While the governor’s budget includes investments in an array of key areas to help counter the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact, the most pressing concern remains the current political stalemate on billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief. With the clock ticking on federal deadlines and Michigan residents’ struggles more urgent than ever, our leaders need to stop using that funding for political leverage and instead find a way to iron out a reasonable agreement — and quickly — that puts all of the federal COVID money to work as soon as possible.

Many of the League’s 2022 budget priorities align closely with Gov. Whitmer’s, including affordable child care and safe drinking water in schools. The League also continues to advocate for providing more state funding to public schools in high-poverty communities, updating the state’s food and income assistance programs, and more.

With the governor’s budget proposal released, the work now shifts to the Legislature to craft its own budget.

That offers a prime opportunity for residents to engage with their leaders and advocate for the needs of their families and communities.

I encourage you to check out the League’s 2022 state budget priorities, budget timeline, and advocacy tips, which can all be found at mlpp.org/budget-priorities.

Gilda Z. Jacobs is president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

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