Published Online: November 30, 2009

Deadline Nears on Michigan School Budget Cuts

Time is running out for state lawmakers to soften the latest round of funding cuts to Michigan schools.

Legislators have been studying what they could do to help offset a $127 per student funding cut — about $212 million statewide — ordered by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The cuts will be reflected in checks sent to schools Dec. 21 unless lawmakers agree in the next week or so on a way to raise enough cash to eliminate the reduction.

It appears more likely that lawmakers will try and restore the cuts in early 2010, after the reductions have taken effect.

The Republican-led Senate plans to take action this week on measures that would help Michigan compete for up to $400 million in federal Recovery Act money by making changes in state law, including allowing more charter schools and creating an alternative path to teacher certification. If Michigan were to be among the winners of the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition, the state could get $200 million to $400 million for schools as early as April.

Hearings on the proposals are scheduled for Tuesday.

"That's going to be the focus, because we've got real money sitting out there," said Matt Marsden, a spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop.

Democrats who run the state House said Monday they are working on education funding plans but there's no guarantee anything will happen this week.

Schools across the state already are planning layoffs, busing cuts and other reductions for January in anticipation of the reduced state aid. But parents and school officials have not yet given up hope that lawmakers will do something to avoid it.

"We're not telling lawmakers how to fix it," said Karen Kline, a parent and marching band and orchestra booster in the Royal Oak school district in suburban Detroit. "Just fix it."

Kline is concerned about cuts to the band and other programs that could take place unless more money is found. She helped start a statewide bake sale effort called Cookies for Michigan Kids to draw attention to schools' funding plight. The campaign includes a Wednesday visit to the state Capitol to lobby for more education money.

"It's such a political impasse at this point," Kline said. "We're trying to give parents a voice, to allow them to say to Lansing 'we're really frustrated and angry that you're not keeping your promise to our children to fund their education.'"

The $127 per student reduction comes on top of a $165 per student cut signed into law in October. Combined, the cuts represent a 4 percent reduction from the minimum of $7,316 per student allocated by the state last fiscal year.

Those cuts affect all of Michigan's 551 public school districts and 233 public school academies. In addition, 39 of the state's higher-funded school districts face a combined cut of nearly $52 million from funding specifically set aside for them because of a Granholm veto.

Some of those districts now get more than $11,000 per student. But they could lose more than $600 per student with all the cuts combined.

The Royal Oak school district could lose roughly $3 million, or nearly 6 percent of its budget, through the state aid cuts.

"I haven't given up, and you can't give up," said Royal Oak superintendent Thomas Moline, who communicates daily with state lawmakers about public education funding.

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