Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed a $16 billion budget that covers K-12 education, community colleges, and the state's 15 public universities. The budget gained bipartisan support in the state legislature, but it aroused the skepticism of some who are critical of a $2.5 million stipend that could lay the groundwork for private school vouchers.
"Getting a budget signed is not the most exciting thing," Snyder told a group of educators and students at James R. Geisler Middle School in Commerce Township, which is part of the Walled Lake school district. "But this is an unprecedented investment in our kids."
The education budget is 2% larger than the version Governor Snyder signed last year, despite revenue reductions that forced the governor and legislators to scale back some initial spending proposals for K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities. According to Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press, the budget includes increases of between $60 and $120 for the per-pupil foundation allowance.
Additionally, for the first time, parochial and other private schools will receive $2.5 million in state funding as reimbursement for government mandates such as safety drills and immunization reporting. According to the Detroit News, public school groups lobbied the governor to strike the private school funding from the state budget through a line item-veto. These critics argue that the appropriation violates the state constitution's ban on subsidizing private schools and would set a precedent for future requests.
"The Michigan Constitution specifically prevents public resources from being appropriated directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic school," a group of school association officials told the governor in a letter. "It is also important to recognize that public schools do not receive extra money to provide these same basic, common sense, public safety-related type of state mandates."
Governor Snyder acknowledged legal concerns with private school funding, and he said his office was reviewing options for the best way to proceed. Private schools in Michigan educate over 100,000 students. Some state funds already support private schools that share services or teachers with public schools, and private schools have been winning state grants to improve building security and safety.
Detroit Public Schools will see an extra $72 million in per-pupil funding after Governor Snyder signed a separate relief package last week that will allow the district to pay down its operating debt. The money will come from state tobacco settlement dollars. The K-12 budget includes $10.1 million in Flint water crisis aid, including $6.2 million for early intervention services to identify and help students already exposed to lead.
In addition to K-12 increases, the state will spend 2.9% more on operations at state universities. But, according to Detroit CBS, aggregate state aid, including for six of the 15 state universities, will remain below what it was before Governor Snyder and his Republican allies in the state legislature cut university aid five years ago. The governor had promised earlier this year that he would restore these levels to the place where they were before he assumed office.
Nevertheless, despite some issues, the bill was positively received by politicians of all stripes and by Michigan's education establishment.