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Michigan House Passes Education Budget Bills

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LANSING (AP) - Republicans in the Michigan House approved a budget deal Thursday for state universities, community colleges and public schools, outvoting Democrats who said it didn’t do enough to make up for last year’s education cuts.

The package is expected to easily pass the GOP-controlled Senate on Tuesday and move on to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. The rest of the $48.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 was passed Thursday by the two chambers and sent to Snyder.

The education package would require universities to hold tuition and fee increases to no more than four percent or lose part of their state funding. The budget includes a $36 million increase for public universities, to $1.4 billion, as well as $200 million more for public schools, which will get $12.9 billion overall. Community colleges will get $10.3 million more, for a total of $294 million.

All three must meet performance requirements to qualify for much of the extra money. Some of the new funding will go to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System to cover pension and retiree health care costs.

Mike Boulus of the Presidents Council, which represents the 15 state universities, welcomed the three percent increase in the higher education budget and the new performance requirements.

But he said lawmakers wrongly meddled in university operations by including language that would affect funding for Michigan State University if it continues to require students have health insurance and take away funding from the University of Michigan if it doesn’t report more about its embryonic stem cell research.

“The trend to tying social policy to purse strings rather than performance is sort of troubling,” Boulus said.

All the state’s private colleges and universities require students to carry health insurance, so Michigan State shouldn’t be forced to count the insurance charge as part of its tuition increase, he said. The language was added by GOP lawmakers who think the health care requirement is too much in step with the federal health care law they don’t like. Some also oppose embryonic stem cell research.

The higher ed budget also bans universities from collaborating with a nonprofit work center that demonstrates against a Michigan business. The Michigan Restaurant Association asked for the language after a University of Michigan graduate student interning with the Detroit-based Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan helped organize protests outside Andiamo’s Dearborn restaurant in 2009 and 2010.

In July 2010, Andiamo settled allegations with the National Labor Relations Board that it illegally retaliated against two former employees, according to The Detroit News. The Restaurant Opportunities Center settled a 15-month labor dispute with the upscale restaurant chain in March 2011. GOP lawmakers who supported the language said universities shouldn’t have ties to groups demonstrating against businesses that pay taxes supporting the schools.

But Democratic Rep. Joan Bauer, whose East Lansing district includes Michigan State, criticized the provision.

“(It) is the result of an outside group coming in and dictating what our universities should do,” she said. “I find that dangerous.”

Democratic Rep. Jeff Irwin, whose Ann Arbor district includes the University of Michigan, also criticized Republicans’ actions.

“When we start putting ideological and political dictates on university funding … that makes us a target of ridicule around the nation and around the world,” he said.

Republican Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton praised the compromise as a way to hold universities accountable for student performance while restoring some of the funds lost in the last round of budget cuts. Current university funding is down 15 percent from a year ago.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham, said the education budgets provide slight increases, which is all the state currently can afford.

“Last year we did surgery, because we had to,” he said. “This budget stands for responsibility, for accountability, and for transparency and reform.”

Increases for individual universities would range from less than 1 percent at Wayne State University in Detroit to 8.2 percent for Saginaw Valley State University. Schuitmaker said the some universities were given more because of past underfunding. Michigan State and the University of Michigan would each see increases of less than 2 percent.

Besides tuition and fee restraint, other factors that affect how much each university would receive are how well it compares to its national peers, the number of graduates in high-demand areas, total degree completions and how much research and development it does.

The Senate will return Tuesday to take up the education package. The House elected to hold a rare Friday session to finish the budget by June 1, but the Senate decided against doing the same so senators could attend the Friday funeral of Grand Rapids Sen. Mark Jansen’s son, who died of cancer.

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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