By Anna Liz Nichols, Michigan Advance
Several educators-turned-lawmakers are expressing their appreciation for getting certain components of the budget funding in order to support students as they continue their education after COVID-era interruptions and support teachers as the state faces a shortage of educators.
As the state Senate was taking up the education budget, former teacher Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.) told his colleagues to be proud that after numerous conversations with educators, the legislature made a budget that invests in the state’s schools.
“We are creating a budget that is going to change the lives of so many students. … They may not see that impact today. They may not see it tomorrow, but one day they might be standing in the boardroom, in the classroom, or right here in the Senate chamber, thinking about the impact that someone else made decades prior that gave them that chance and gave them that opportunity to live the life that they want,” Camilleri said.
The allocation schools would receive per pupil increased by 5% to $9,608 per-pupil, though the cyber school allowance remained at $9,150.
The budget legislation heads over to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to sign it soon.
Here are some of the other education areas Michigan lawmakers funded:
Universal school meals
Michigan is set to become one of the first states to offer universal free meal programming using state funding under the Legislature’s budget. Other states that fund universal free meals for students are California, Nevada, Vermont, Colorado, Maine and Massachusetts.
With $160 million to fund the endeavor, K-12 students in Michigan would be eligible to receive free lunch and breakfast. Whitmer also recommended a $160 million allocation in her proposal for the budget.
This budget addresses the areas of greatest need in the state, former teacher Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) said in a news release after the budget cleared the Legislature.
“We are ensuring that all kids have the food they need to thrive and the supports they need to succeed, and that their schools have the funding necessary to address all students needs,” Polehanki said.
The state would allocate one-time funding to providing a maximum of $400 a month to public school employees that work directly with students. The $225 million dedicated to offering economic relief and incentive to school workers is capped at $400 for employees in districts where at least 85% of pupils are “economically disadvantaged” and capped at $200 for employees of other districts.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against President Joe Biden’s debt forgiveness plan that would have offered up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness to thousands of Michiganders where the average debt is around $30,000.
For individuals in the process of becoming teachers, $25 million would be dedicated to fellowships to offset the cost of going to college and $50 million would be used for stipends while student teaching.
Early literacy and development
Funding for two years worth of grants to improve early literacy in districts with students in grades pre-K to fifth grade was included by the Legislature. Whitmer’s plan for this funding was trimmed down from $300 million to $140 million.
At the same time, Early On Michigan which provides educational services to children under the age of four with developmental delays or disabilities would receive an extra $1.1 million, bringing its allocation to $22.3 million.
Spending on early literacy teacher coaches in the state to get students up to grade-level in their reading skills would increase by $10.5 million for a total of $42 million to bump up the number of coaches from 280 to 336. Additional instruction time will continue to be funded at about $20 million, despite Whitmer’s budget calling for more funding, but pupil eligibility will be extended from third grade to fifth grade.
The Legislature has set aside nearly $1 billion to dispense to districts with disadvantaged students.
By adding $204.5 million and utilizing an “opportunity index” to measure levels of economic disadvantage within the district, lawmakers are aiming to get schools with children in need more funding, raising the total statewide allocation to $952 million.
In order to address mental health within schools, the Legislature included $328 million for schools across the state to fund activities to improve mental health. Also, $6 million is to be used to adopt tools to identify concerning behaviors early on and prevent possible abuse or violence in school.
Clean energy school transportation
School districts would be able to ask for grants to fund contracting clean energy buses or other vehicles, as well as cover the expenses of other infrastructure to encourage the limitation of greenhouse gasses like building electric vehicle charging stations with funding included in the budget.
The Legislature landed on an allocation of $125 million for grants.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center applauded the funding of electric vehicles in Michigan’s education infrastructure and its Senior Policy Advocate Susan Mudd noted in a statement following the legislature’s completion of the budget that swapping out vehicles will benefit entire school communities.
“We were proud to work with other Michigan-based groups to advocate for funding safe, clean buses that will reduce school children’s exposure to diesel emissions that are harmful to their developing lungs,” Mudd said. “Swapping out loud, dirty diesels for quieter zero-emission electric buses will also improve air quality for entire communities where these buses travel.”
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