The Michigan House on Thursday narrowly approved legislation that would cut state aid to public schools, community colleges and universities for the budget year that begins in October.

The measure passed 57-53 in the Republican-led chamber mostly along party lines, with six members of the GOP joining Democrats in opposition.

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It was a politically difficult vote for many lawmakers, assailed by education groups that are fiercely lobbying against the cuts. Republicans who voted for the measure acknowledged the vote was tough, but said it was necessary.

“Today was a very difficult vote,” said House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican from Marshall. “It’s never easy to contain spending.”

The Republican-led Senate has passed its own version of education spending cuts for next budget year. Differences between the two versions must be reconciled before a plan can become law, meaning lawmakers will have to vote on education funding plans again before they wrap up budget votes for the year.

The House proposal would cut the state’s per-student foundation grant by an additional 3.5 percent, with cuts ranging from $256 to $297 per student. That’s on top of a $170 per student cut that’s already in place and would be continued into next fiscal year.

Community college funding would be cut by 15 percent and universities would lose at least 15 percent of their state aid under the House plan. Cuts would be even deeper for universities that don’t keep tuition increases under roughly 7 percent headed into next academic year. Universities also would be penalized an additional 5 percent of their state aid if they extend health benefits to unmarried domestic partners of university employees.

House Democrats are steadfastly against the education cuts, saying they’re unnecessary. But Republicans have a 63-47 edge in the House.

Republicans joining the Democrats in opposition to the education spending bill were Hugh Crawford of Novi, Kurt Heise of Plymouth, Holly Hughes of Montague, Andrea LaFontaine of Richmond Township, Pat Somerville of New Boston and Dale Zorn of Ida.

Democrats are opposed to Republican plans that would take money typically used for K-12 schools to help support budgets for community colleges and universities. If the money was left in the school aid fund, Democrats said, K-12 funding would not be cut because there’s a surplus in the account.

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Republican Gov. Rick Snyder wants to move toward funding universities and community colleges from the school aid fund.

Snyder has proposed an additional per student cut of $300 in the K-12 system, on top of the existing $170 per student reduction. The Senate approved a plan with additional per student cuts of $170, making the total cut $340 per student.

Snyder proposed holding community college funding even with this fiscal year’s levels. The Senate voted to cut community college funding by an average of 3.4 percent.

Operating funds for universities would be cut by 15 percent under Snyder’s plan and the Senate plan.

Some lawmakers are hopeful they’ll be able to lessen the projected cuts to public schools after state economists meet for an official revenue estimating conference on May 16. It’s possible the state may have roughly $500 million more in revenue than thought just a few months ago, but that won’t be official until economists compare numbers and forecast them into the next fiscal year.

Democrats said there was no reason to vote on the cuts Thursday.

“Wait 10 days,” said Rep. Tim Melton, a Democrat from Auburn Hills. “Wait 240 hours. Wait and get a clearer picture.”

Snyder has said lawmakers should not bank on having a surplus available. Even if the money materializes, Snyder said, education is not the only option for using the money.

Snyder has noted the state’s budget stabilization or “rainy day” fund is low. At roughly $2.2 million, Snyder said it would cover state spending for only about 30 minutes.

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Snyder wants to cut business taxes while also erasing an overall budget deficit projected at about $1.4 billion a few months ago.
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