Capitol Recap

December 12, 2001 3 min read

The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2000 data reported by the National Center for Education Statistics for prekindergarten through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending include money for state education administration, but not federal, flow-through dollars, unless otherwise noted.


Budget Uncertainties Dominate Session

Faced with a projected budget shortfall of more than $300 million this fall, Michigan legislators chose to spare the heart of this year’s education spending plan, even as they slashed other expenditures.

Under the new $11.4 billion budget, districts will get basic “foundation” grants of $6,500 per student in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. That keeps the grants in line with the state’s first three-year education spending plan, passed in 2000, when state coffers were overflowing and the per-pupil grants stood at $5,700.

“We’ve preserved a historic increase,” said David P. Seitz, the education policy adviser to the House Republican caucus. “That’s an amazing feat for us, especially since these are the first tight times since the state changed its education funding system in 1994.”

Gov. John Engler

14 Democrats
22 Republicans
52 Democrats
56 Republicans
1.7 million

To shore up the spending plan, which represents a 4.7 percent increase over last year, lawmakers agreed to draw $300 million from the state’s rainy-day fund.

Legislators had expected merely to tweak the three-year plan this year. Instead, they found themselves in protracted negotiations over an education budget that Gov. John Engler had cut across the board by 5 percent in July.

The Republican governor made the move after the GOP-controlled legislature failed to trim the budget as revenues plummeted.

Lawmakers eventually cut a half-billion dollars in specific programs, including new services for young children and their families, from this year’s state school budget. Mr. Engler agreed to most of those cuts, but signaled the gravity of the fiscal situation by also vetoing all K-12 spending for the next fiscal year that he said was not required by law.

The move essentially forces the legislature to build that budget from the ground up when it meets in the new year. That casts into doubt the proposed $6,700 per-pupil grant for the 2002-03 school year, up $200 from this year.

Though the work of the legislature was dominated by the state’s revenue woes, lawmakers also took a step to break the logjam over charter schools that has plagued state leaders for three years.

While Gov. Engler has pushed to raise the cap on the number of the independent public schools that universities can charter, Democrats and some Republicans in the legislature have staunchly resisted the move. Instead, many have called for greater accountability by charter schools.

In October, the legislature handed the problem of whether the current charter law needs revision to a new commission composed mostly of legislative and gubernatorial appointees and headed by the president of Michigan State University, Peter McPherson. The commission may report back on the state’s 185 charter schools as early as February.

Legislation enacted this year includes a measure that requires school districts to come up with a policy for fostering parent involvement. “We allowed the districts to determine what involvement would look like,” said Rep. Wayne Kuipers, who sponsored the bill and chairs the House education committee.

On other fronts, state schools Superintendent Thomas D. Watkins last spring scrapped the state’s new school accreditation system, which had yet to officially rank any schools. Mr. Watkins, who took office shortly before making the decision, said he agreed with critics that the system relied too heavily on state test scores. State officials plan to unveil the new system next week.

—Bess Keller

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2001 edition of Education Week as Capitol Recap