Michigan Lawmakers Split Over Education Spending
By David Eggert, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) - Majority Republicans writing Michigan’s education budget not only disagree over whether to punish schools and colleges that signed lengthy labor contracts seen as delaying the effect of the new right-to-work law.
Differences also are emerging between the GOP-led House and Senate over per-pupil funding, boosting enrollment of at-risk 4-year-olds in a preschool program and limiting university tuition increases.
Spending plans that moved forward along party lines Wednesday in the House Appropriations Committee and Senate budget subcommittees set the stage for negotiations once the bills win approval from both chambers.
Republicans — over Democrats’ objections that education funding is too low — are on board with Gov. Rick Snyder’s overall two percent increase in state aid to K-12 schools, universities and community colleges. They have different ideas on how to spend it, though.
The House plan would cut funding or limit additional aid for the University of Michigan and other schools that agreed to new employee contracts after the right-to-work law was passed in December and before it took effect in late March – unless they won a minimum level of concessions. The Senate is opposed to the idea.
“I’d like to see that language stay, but we understand that we’ve got to negotiate with the other side,” House Appropriations Chairman Joe Haveman, R-Holland, told reporters. “But the main focus should be that local taxpayers, students, parents of students be aware of what their boards did, what their local officials did, what their school boards did.”
Like the Senate, the Republican governor has appeared less open to the tactic. Wayne State University and the University of Michigan’s three campuses would lose $74 million, or 15 percent, of their state aid under the House plan.
Other differences to be ironed out by June are:
- Aid to K-12 schools. The House and Snyder want the minimum grant raised $34 to $7,000 per pupil on a one-time basis, while the Senate hopes to boost it permanently to $7,100 by using $155 million Snyder would give to districts for employee retirement costs. The three sides also disagree on how to divide additional funding if schools meet performance benchmarks, “best practices” or technology improvements.
- Preschool. Snyder asked to put 16,000 more 4-year-olds in a preschool program for kids at risk of failing. The Senate agrees, but the House would add 4,200 fewer enrollees.
- Tuition. The governor’s budget would require universities to hold tuition and fee increases to less than four percent or lose part of their state aid. The House would limit the hikes to three percent.
- Social issues. Snyder and the Senate would discontinue provisions in the current budget requiring universities to report on embryonic stem cell research and on efforts to accommodate counseling students with religious beliefs opposing homosexuality. The House would retain the language along with a provision – opposed by Snyder and senators – stating the Legislature’s intent that universities not provide health benefits to unmarried adults living together.
Democrats, irked by the House’s right-to-work funding penalties, also renewed complaints that overall education spending is not going up enough and money typically reserved for K-12 schools also is going to universities and community colleges. Snyder and GOP legislators cut education funding significantly in 2011 and slightly increased it last year following a few years when it was propped up with federal stimulus money.
“Instead of trying to fill that hole again with a shovel, the governor has chosen to use a teaspoon to try to put some of the dirt back in there. We’re not even close to getting back to where we were,” said Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids.
But Republicans countered that the education system is in better shape because of their efforts to address liabilities for teachers’ retirement costs and, as a result, K-12 districts can spend more of their money in the classroom. They also said a two percent boost in spending is adequate.
Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, who is in charge of the House K-12 budget, said the number of Michigan students is down since peaking at 1.7 million a decade ago. It has dropped every year since and has decreased 177,000 overall.
“Unfortunately, we have to adjust to this. But the reality is we have increased our gross appropriation in the last budget and again in this budget,” he said.
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