Michigan schools will see an increase of between $60 and $120 per pupil under a budget that got final approval in the Senate this morning.
The Senate adopted the school aid budget on a 23-14 vote today. On Tuesday, the House passed the school aid budget on a 72-35 vote. The budget now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.
The increase means the lowest amount a district could receive is $7,631 per pupil. The actual per-pupil grants vary from district to district, and some districts receive far more money. In the metro Detroit counties of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne, the range is $7,631 to $12,124.
In addition to the across-the-board per-pupil funding increases — which award the largest increases to the lowest-funded school districts — the budget also provides additional funding for schools to meet the needs of at-risk students and students who speak little or no English.
"We're glad to see those were put in the final product," said Peter Spadafore, associate executive director at the Michigan Association of School Administrators.
Those areas could use even more funding than what the budget provides, but Spadafore said, "Progress is progress and that's what we like to see."
But Spadafore said the association is concerned that this year's budget includes $2.5 million to reimburse private schools for complying with state mandates.
The issue touched off controversy last year — the first time the Legislature included such funding in the budget. Michigan's Constitution says: "No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid ... directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary or secondary school."
A group of education organizations and school districts announced in March that they plan to sue the state.
That the Legislature is providing a second year of funding for private schools "is a troubling trend," Spadafore said.
"Our Constitution is very clear that state dollars should not be spent on private schools. But here we are with another line item."
Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, praised the budget in a Wednesday interview.
"Once again, we have record funding. Never have we spent so much on education. And that's also in an era with less students," Kelly said.
State Superintendent Brian Whiston also praised the budget in a statement, particularly the additional $120 million in funding for at-risk students — mostly students who come from low-income homes.
"Poverty matters in the education of children in our most struggling communities," Whiston said. "Strategic and targeted resources will help students and educators overcome some of these innate challenges."
Officials with the Education Trust-Midwest, a Royal Oak-based education research and advocacy organization, said that while the increased funding for schools overall, as well as the money for at-risk students, is a positive, they're worried that the budget allows the Michigan Department of Education to change the state exam. It would be the third time in six years that the exam would have changed.
Another change in state exams "would create unnecessary change in the classroom for teachers and students, just as they are getting used to teaching to Michigan's rigorous career-and college-ready standards," the organization said in a news release this morning.
Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said the school aid budget is "a much better document than when we started."
But he voted no because the budget dedicates millions to the hotly debated reform of the teacher pension system — which closes the system to new school employees while steering them toward a 401k-type system.
"I believe that money should have been spent on roads," Hertel said.
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