State Legislature OKs education hike

LANSING (AP) – A divided Michigan Legislature late Wednesday sent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder a budget bill that includes a 4 percent hike in education funding, including a sizable boost for universities.

The nearly $15.8 billion spending plan increases the state’s per-pupil funding to K-12 districts by at least $50 in the next fiscal year. The lowest-funded districts will get $175 more, with minimum aid rising from $7,076 to $7,251.

Many Democrats and some Republicans opposed the legislation after a last-ditch effort to make sure all districts got at least $83 more per student failed. Majority Republicans defended the plan – approved 60-50 by the House and 21-17 in the Senate – saying it will reduce the funding gap among districts and help cover districts’ retirement costs.

“I challenge anyone to tell me – that took math in school – that an additional $548 million (for the K-12 fund) is a negative number. It’s real money,” said Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, who chairs the House K-12 budget subcommittee.

But critics said the $50 per-pupil minimum hike is less than Snyder proposed and less than the both the House and Senate had approved before final negotiations.

“It’s a shame that we didn’t actually do that work,” said Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing. “We had the time. We could have done it. Unfortunately, we’re going to walk away from many of these school districts because we couldn’t find $20 million more (among) billions of dollars that we’re allocating.”

State aid to Michigan’s 15 universities will go up 5.9 percent, with the amount varying by school depending on their graduation rates and other performance benchmarks. The schools can raise tuition by no more than 3.2 percent to get their entire funding increase.

Lawmakers on Thursday plan to approve the rest of the state budget starting in October that includes $37.4 billion for roads, prisons, state police, local governments and other general spending. It is their last day before breaking for much of the summer.

In passing the education budget, legislators balked at the state Education Department’s plan to replace the nearly 45-year-old Michigan Educational Assessment Program next school year with exams developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium, a group of states.