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Mid-Michigan teen writes letter to Gov. Whitmer for reconsideration of proposed virtual school funding cuts

Full-time virtual schools are recommended to be funded 20% less than traditional schools for the 2024 fiscal year.
Credit: WZZM 13

ITHACA, Mich. — A Mid-Michigan teen is speaking out against Governor Gretchen Whitmer's proposed funding cuts to virtual schools. 

For the 2024 fiscal year, full-time virtual schools are recommended to be funded 20% less than traditional schools. 

Zoey Harrison, 13, wants the Governor to know how important virtual schools are and how she doesn't want to feel left behind.

Zoey, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, is in the eighth grade and attends online school at Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy.

"We can do Education.com, like fun games," said Zoey. "If I have any medical episode I can recover from them without having to be seen. My teachers are just a phone call or email away."

Traditional school didn't work out for Zoey. 

"She thrives in a virtual school where she can take care of her physical and mental needs at home in private and still be able to get a good, quality education," said Jennifer Harrison, her mother.

But a quality education became a concern when the Harrison family learned Governor Whitmer is recommending virtual schools be funded at 20% less for the next fiscal year, or $7,687 per pupil, as opposed to traditional schools that will get $9,608 per pupil.

"The way she makes me feel is that I'm less important than regular students and I don't deserve the education regular students deserve," said Zoey.

Zoey's mother is concerned these cuts mean Zoey may lose her occupational or physical therapy, her Special Ed Teachers or ParaPros.

"[Virtual schools] don't get local taxes. They don't get any of that. The only money they get is state aid and that's what they use," said Harrison. "They're operating on less money than the regular schools and then you're going to cut them again? It just feels like once again the school system is failing her." 

A spokesperson for the Governor's office told 13 ON YOUR SIDE traditional brick and mortar schools cost more and they need an additional increase in funds because of inflation eating their budget.

In addition, virtual school students will still receive the same level of education and the amount the administration is proposing is in line with what was has been allocated for virtual schools historically. 

"She's not making things hard for me. She's making things hard for everyone that has a disability and setting up barriers we can't get through," Zoey said. 

It took three weeks for Zoey to write a 3-page letter to the Governor expressing her concerns. 

State Representative Graham Filler, who represents Zoey's 93rd House District, delivered her letter to the Governor last week.

"I really fought during COVID for in-person schooling because when it comes to kids developing social schools and learning, seeing their teacher, and being able to ask questions, in-person schooling is the best. But for individuals like Zoey and others, virtual school is a blessing for them and their families so I want to make sure that's not cut," Filler said. "I just think fewer people will go into virtual school. I think that's at the basis of it. You'll have fewer teachers. It's basically a down stream effect on everything virtual." 

It's a letter Zoey says she wrote from the heart and she hopes her voice will make an impact.

"I want her to reconsider how she feels about it because she's not just taking my education away but a bunch of people's education away." 

The governor must work with the state legislature to finalize the budget by July 1. 

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