Michigan lawmakers finally shaped a pared-down education budget last week, cutting about a half-billion dollars in public school aid over three years. One large chunk of the money was to have gone to provide new services for young children and their families.
The reductions in specific programs preserved the state’s basic “foundation” aid to schools. Republican Gov. John Engler had tentatively trimmed the aid by 5 percent after legislators failed to reach a K-12 budget agreement this past summer. The changes apply to the state’s first three-year plan for public school spending, passed in 2000, when the state was buoyed by a budget surplus. State officials have faced dwindling tax revenues this year.
Now, the revised budget goes to the governor, who had not finished reviewing it as of late last week, according to a spokeswoman for the state budget office.
The spending plan for precollegiate education, which would rise from $10.9 billion in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 to $11.9 billion in the succeeding one, does not include further restrictions on the authorization of charter schools, as did an earlier House budget bill. That contentious issue complicated budget negotiations. (“Mich. Deal in Works on School Aid and Charter Schools,” Sept. 19, 2001.)
Rep. Wayne Kuipers, the Republican who chairs the House education committee, said he was satisfied with the final product. “My No. 1 goal, and I think that of many of my colleagues, was to preserve the foundation grant,” he said. Lawmakers, he added, had taken pains to shield public schools from the downturn in the state’s economy. “Education is really the only budget where we’ve seen increases.” Under the budget, overall spending on schools is set to increase by 4.7 percent this fiscal year and 1.9 percent in 2002-03—figures that are both lower than they would have been under the original three-year budget that was passed in 2000. The basic per-pupil grant to districts is to go from $6,500 this school year to $6,700 in the next one.
Conflict Over Charters
But Rep. Rose Bogardus, a Democrat on the House education committee who voted against the budget, said the Republican-controlled legislature and the governor had brought the cuts on by reducing taxes and earmarking the state’s tobacco-settlement money for college scholarships. She said preserving the basic aid would not be much help to districts, because they would be stuck with the bills from the programs that got chopped in the revision.
Ms. Bogardus and some other Democrats also voted against the budget because it left the door open for Bay Mills Community College, run by American Indians, to charter additional K-12 schools anywhere in the state.
The college is not restricted to chartering schools in its local area, as are other community colleges in Michigan. “Charter schools are especially hurtful to urban districts,” Ms. Bogardus argued.
A bill that would restrict Bay Mills, but raise the cap on the number of charters that can be granted by universities, is pending in the legislature.
Most of the heavy hits to the budget passed by the legislature last week would come in 2002-03. Under that bill, grants for early-literacy improvements would drop from $50 million to $43 million to zero over the three years. Money for summer school for elementary students would sink from $38 million to $28 million to nothing in the same period. Other reductions include money for extending half-day preschool to full day and for parent training.