In Suttons Bay, Whitmer signs historic $24B education budget ⋆
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined lawmakers and community members at Suttons Bay High School on Thursday to sign Michigan’s School Aid budget for the 2024 Fiscal Year, marking a victory for her administration’s education policy agenda.
“This budget was written to help anyone and everyone be able to make it here in Michigan with a strong academic foundation that starts early and continues through higher education and beyond,” Whitmer said at the school north of Traverse City. “We must be lifelong learners.”
Whitmer was hosted by state Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) and joined by House and Senate Education Appropriations chairs, Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park) and Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) for the signing.
Here’s what’s in the $24B Michigan budget for schools
The event also was attended by House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Grand Traverse County Commissioner Lauren Flynn.
The $24.3 billion in state education spending includes such Democratic education priorities as a 5% increase in per-pupil funding, bringing the state’s allocation up to $9,608 per student, free breakfast and lunch for all public school students, nearly $1 billion towards districts with high populations of at-risk students and various economic relief initiatives for education professionals and prospective teachers.
Coffia, who attended school in rural Kalkaska county as a child, said that this year’s education budget included landmark investments in rural communities like Suttons Bay.
“Simply put, this budget is fantastic for Northern Michigan kids,” Coffia said. “It supports critical priorities of our local schools, from mental health to teacher attraction and retention.”
The budget includes a $125 million investment in a rural transportation equity formula designed to grant state dollars to rural school districts with long bus routes and high dependency on school buses, an issue championed by Coffia.
“Policy is shaped by the experiences that we bring to the legislature…I grew up here in northern Michigan, in a district that actually ran out of money and had to close months early when I was in high school,” Coffia said. “And when they reopened, the thing they cut in order to keep the classroom doors open was busing.”
Holding the event in Suttons Bay put other rural issues at the center of the conversation around education spending, including new measures allowing indigenous students and teachers to identify themselves on school forms with their tribal affiliation. Whitmer said the new policy would allow for an influx of federal funds to school districts with higher indigenous populations, many of which are in northern lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.
“The districts will benefit with more equitable funding that is representative of the unique aspects to being a tribal member,” Whitmer said.
The spending isn’t limited to just rural and suburban communities, however. Weiss said one of the parts of the budget she’s proudest of is advancements in equitable funding for urban school districts through an increase in spending targeted towards at-risk students.
“The main thing about this budget that I believe makes it truly transformative is its emphasis on equity,” Weiss said. “This budget includes a historic increase for at-risk funding, increasing investment for at-risk students by over $2,000. That’s over $900,000 overall.”
Camilleri said that the priorities found in the education budget were formed after meeting with stakeholders in public education to understand what best suited the needs of Michigan’s students.
“From the beginning, my colleagues and I were very intentional about how we wanted to craft this process, to listen to those voices who hadn’t always been heard by our legislators,” Camilleri said. “That’s why we held committee hearings in schools and listened to teachers, school administrators, parents, students and staff.”
A former teacher, Camilleri emphasized the budget’s focus on teacher recruitment and retention, an issue that’s been at the forefront of Democrats’ goal to grow Michigan’s population and draw young workers to the state.
“Michigan will be one of the best places in the country to be a teacher,” Camilleri said. “I’ll repeat that again. Michigan will be one of the best places in the country to be a teacher.”
Whitmer highlighted new programming to reduce tuition costs for prospective teachers, including $25 million for cost-offsetting fellowships and $50 million to pay stipends to student teachers.
“Continuing to pay our student teachers will incentivize more to stay on the path in the classroom,” Whitmer said. “Continuing ‘grow your own’ programs that help districts train their staff and educators at low or no cost, improving teacher mentoring programs and recruiting, retaining and training more educators will further strengthen our education pipeline and ensure every classroom has a qualified skilled professional at the head of it. Our vision is ambitious but achievable.”
Gilchrist said it was important to hear teacher input on education outcomes and weak spots in Michigan’s schools in order to address those issues in the budget.
“One of the things that’s been different about this administration is that we recognize that the people who are dealing with the deepest challenges in our state, these are the people who have the deepest understanding of the solutions to those challenges,” Gilchrist said.
Lawmakers pose with Suttons Bay Public School students after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Michigan’s 2024 school aid budget. Rural communities like Suttons Bay were a key priority in Democratic education policies reflected in the budget, July 20, 2023 | Lily Guiney
One of the key budget’s key components, universal free meals in schools, makes Michigan the seventh state to implement a program allowing kids to eat lunch and breakfast at school at no cost to them or their families.
“We believe that this investment can save families on average about $850 a year, and that’s real money everywhere in Michigan,” Gilchrist said. “It’s gonna make the difference at a time when things are so expensive.”
The education omnibus bill received a handful of Republican yes votes in the Legislature, but drew criticism from GOP members for having too many one-time expenses that they said wouldn’t provide Michigan schools with financial longevity.
House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) said in a statement that the budget “prioritizes pork projects over kids’ academic needs.” State Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) agreed with that point, saying the budget spent too much on “frivolous projects.”
“Instead of wasting $2 billion on pointless programs and pork that only benefits a few select schools, we should be investing directly in our students,” said Bollin in a statement.
Whitmer said that the one-time spending wasn’t out of the ordinary, but that other aspects of the budget would ensure security beyond the current fiscal year.
“We paid down billions in debt,” Whitmer said. “We even put money aside in a rainy day fund for education to show how serious we are about making sure that these investments stick.”
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authored by Lily Guiney
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