With one party controlling the Legislature and the Governor’s chair since 2011, it’s been a while since we had a budget showdown in Lansing—this year might change all of that.
The 99th Legislature kicked off in dramatic fashion, with the first major bill to come up in the House failing against the wishes of the Speaker of the House Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt). Although there were several versions of the bill, the general idea involved various levels of cuts to the state income tax—a move that Gov. Rick Snyder publicly criticized several times throughout the brief process.
By now you’ve learned the broad strokes of Snyder’s proposed School Aid Budget—overall a pretty good proposal for education interests. Snyder’s budget includes a $50 increase to the foundation allowance for the highest funded districts and a $100 increase for the lowest funded districts, a substantial increase for at-risk, and several other increases that have been received well in the education community. Typically, we’d see the House and Senate soon begin hearings on this proposal and release their versions, and the art of the compromise would begin.
This year promises to be different. House leadership has drawn a line in the sand on the budget, and that line includes tax cuts.
Annually, Snyder pushes for a June 1 budget adoption. This year, House leadership has indicated that June 1 is more of a guideline and that if Snyder and the Senate aren’t willing to play ball on the tax cuts, they’re not inclined to get the budget done on that timeline.
Hearings have begun in both chambers, and MASA has been a part of discussions with lawmakers and stakeholders on funding priorities and issues, but until the so-called “targets” are set for the House and Senate negotiating points, it’s very challenging to seriously dig in.
Big Ticket Items
Foundation Allowance: $128 million increase
The foundation allowance will undoubtedly be the main focus of most conversations. This is the most relatable piece of the budget for lawmakers and constituents who don’t deal with education budgets on a day-to-day basis. Snyder has proposed an increase of $50-$100 per pupil (percentages range from 0.6% to 1.3%) and it’s safe to assume that will likely be the most generous proposal floated this year. If any cuts must be made, it’s more likely that those cuts will come from other areas of the budget.
At-Risk (Sec. 31a)
At-risk funding is another substantial budget item where Snyder has proposed an increase. The governor has proposed a $150 million bump in the at-risk categorical and has proposed expanding the definition of eligible students and the number of eligible districts. We view this as a great first step in implementing recommendations of the Michigan Education Finance Study—which suggested a large investment in at-risk pupils. Snyder’s recommendations include a new set of metrics, and we’re still unpacking the details of them. However, in summary, they expand beyond the existing two goals related to improving third-grade ELA proficiency and college and career readiness to also include improving eighth-grade math proficiency and reducing chronic absenteeism. It’s hard to say whether this piece will be protected in negotiations, but the governor has made it clear that this line item is very important to him this year, as it has been in previous years.
Snyder has proposed a $55 million cap on shared time expenditures. This cap is new, but current expenditures are around $115 million. The governor’s office has argued that some of these programs have gotten too expensive and need to be reined in. This is more than likely a no-go with the Legislature as both Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) and Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Township) have publicly stated opposition to this component of the budget recommendations. Given that they’re the chairs of the subcommittees with jurisdiction, it’s a safe bet they’ll get their way.
In response to criticism over expenditures in cyber schools, Snyder proposed a $16 million reduction to cyber school foundation allowances (20%) after the district’s first year of operation. MASA has long advocated for a common-sense approach to cyber school foundation allowances, and this is a good first step in that discussion.
As hearings gear up and targets get set, MASA will continue to work on the budget with policymakers and stakeholders. We’ll keep http://gomasa.org/government-relations/state-issues/budget/ up to date with information on the budget as it becomes available.
Peter Spadafore is MASA’s associate executive director for government relations. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.