Educators: To get kids back in classrooms, here’s the budget Michigan schools need

LANSING — As schools across Michigan begin to reopen with a mix of in-person and remote learning, educators from the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education sent a message to lawmakers today making it clear that schools cannot successfully implement their learning plans without a budget being passed quickly that allocates every available resource to our classrooms. Educators noted such a budget must also reflect the uncertain nature of K-12 education this year.

“Michigan’s school leaders have been tasked with doing the impossible over the summer: planning for a successful school year during a health pandemic with no answers from lawmakers on how much money is being budgeted for the school year and little guidance on how schools can keep students and staff safe,” said Mark Greathead, Superintendent of Woodhaven-Brownstown Schools and TCA President. “To address these uncertainties schools are now faced with, we need our lawmakers to step up immediately and pass a budget that not only provides Michigan’s schools with the resources necessary to reopen, but recognizes the unusual circumstances in which K-12 learning will take place this year and target those resources where they’re needed most.”

Last week’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference provided the state with some good news in terms of resources available to fund the needs of our K-12 schools. Educators cautioned, however, that as districts are now reopening, it is growing increasingly clear that previously released estimates showing $1 billion in new, COVID-19 related expenses districts would face this year were, if anything, overly conservative in terms of the costs our schools are now facing. Educators noted that even a flat budget compared to last year’s funding may not provide the resources necessary for safe, in-person learning options.

“Whether schools are reopening in-person, remote or both, our districts are facing significant new costs that not only require a renewed investment in K-12 education from our state, but flexibility in terms of how funding can be spent to account for the uncertainties our schools will repeatedly be faced with this year,” added Ken Gutman, Superintendent of Walled Lake Consolidated Schools and TCA Vice President. “School leaders have done everything they can to make this school year as successful as possible for our students. It’s now up to Lansing to deliver the budget we need to make those plans a success. Our students deserve nothing less.”

TCA’s leadership urged lawmakers to utilize the Executive Budget Recommendation released in February as the foundation to quickly build a budget, but cautioned that it requires modifications to reflect the reality that a business-as-usual budget won’t work in a school year that’s anything but. TCA has identified nearly $125 million in categorical spending within that budget that no longer applies to the upcoming school year and should be redirected toward a weighted funding formula to better represent the needs of schools. Doing so, educators said, will better allow schools to fully implement their learning plans, provide the best chance possible to get kids back into classrooms and keep them there safely, and give students the opportunity to succeed this year.

Educators also warned legislators that now, more than ever, the success of the upcoming school year will require them to resist the temptation to use school funding as a means to pay for other priorities in the state budget.

“It’s become a tradition in Lansing to tell schools they are a priority, only to watch hundreds of millions of dollars be diverted out of our classrooms to plug holes in the budget elsewhere,” said Dennis McDavid, Superintendent of Berkley School District. “As we work to find ways to serve our students this year and do everything we can to return them to in-class learning as quickly and safely as possible, we know that it will take every penny available for those efforts to succeed. Using money intended for K-12 classrooms on anything else simply cannot happen this year.”

A complete look at TCA’s budget recommendations can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fAxkoMJW6Nzwa2BB6cZWFConjHb0maNM/view?usp=sharing.

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