Mich. House OKs spending plan, boost for schools

Mich. House OKs spending plan, boosts funding for schools, halts new learning standards

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- The Republican-controlled Michigan House approved a $49 billion spending plan on Tuesday that would put $15.1 billion toward education and boost funding for state universities, community colleges and public schools, but possibly halt the implementation of new learning standards in public schools.

The budget bills for fiscal year starting Oct. 1 now head to the Senate for final approval before they head to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Some House Democrats attacked the spending plan, saying it didn't do enough to correct past cuts to the state's education system and could hurt Michigan students by putting funding for the Common Core State Standards at risk.

"This budget is only passable — and I mean acceptable — if you buy into the concept or the new paradigm that the Snyder administration has put in that we should have diminished expectations for public school funding," said Democratic Rep. Brandon Dillon of Grand Rapids.

Under the plan, Michigan's 15 public universities would receive about $31.1 million or 2 percent more in overall funding next fiscal year but would be expected to keep tuition rate increases at or below 3.75 percent to get some money that is tied to performance, such as the number of completed degrees.

Republican Rep. Al Pscholka of Stevensville said restraining tuition increases will help make college education more affordable, "which is good for students and families."

Michigan's public schools would get slightly more than 3 percent more in overall funding next year, including $140 million from a pot of nearly $700 million in extra funding that the state has thanks to better-than-expected tax collections.

School districts that now get the minimum amount of state aid could get as much as $60 more per student, raising the per-pupil grant from $6,966 to $7,026. The actual amount each district gets is determined by a number of factors, including whether a district meets "best practices" incentives, such as providing online learning opportunities for students. But the budget includes $6 million to ensure that all districts see at least a $5 per-pupil boost.

Republicans touted the increase in education funding, but Democratic Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing said the state's universities are still worse off than where they were before the state cut their funding cut by 15 percent in 2011. Singh criticized the Legislature for not putting any of the surplus money toward higher education institutions, the "economic engines of our communities and our state."

Meanwhile, language included in Department of Education budget that was passed Tuesday would require the Legislature to affirm the Common Core State Standards — benchmarks in reading, writing and math currently being adopted in Michigan's schools — and the assessment that goes along with them or the department could use any funding to implement the standards.

The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers and are backed by Snyder's administration. They aim to provide clear goals for teachers and allow for educational cooperation and comparison among states. But some Michigan lawmakers say they strip away local control of the state's educational system.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan attacked the budget proposal, calling it a "legislative mandate to go backwards."

"When will they stop playing politics with our children's education?" Flanagan said in a statement. "Thoughtful improvements to education must be protected from partisan and self-serving politics, where adults should be more concerned about student needs rather than their own."

But House Republicans said the Legislature needs to take a breath before rushing into the new learning benchmarks.

"The education of Michigan's kids deserves the Legislature taking time to evaluate accountability standards," Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, said in an email. He said the Legislature will have plenty of time to act before the funding change takes place Oct. 1.

Other highlights in the spending plan approved Tuesday include:

— MEDICAID EXPANSION: The budget does not include expanding Medicaid to low-income Michigan residents, but that doesn't mean the expansion is off the table yet. Lawmakers are still considering a proposal to cap benefits for able-bodied adults at 48 months and funding for the expansion could be added to the budget later.

— EARLY CHILDHOOD: A preschool program for 4-year-olds at risk of failing will get a $65 million boost next fiscal year, which Snyder had called for in his budget proposal in February.

— REVENUE SHARING: County revenue sharing would increase by more than $12 million or about 4.8 percent. The Michigan Municipal League said the funding boost begins the process of restoring more than a decade of cuts to local revenue sharing, totaling more than $6 billion in the last 12 years.

— FILM INCENTIVES: The state's film incentive program will remain capped at $50 million. Snyder had proposed reducing the cap to $25 million next fiscal year, but lawmakers worked to keep it at its current funding level.

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