By COLLIN KRIZMANICH
Capital News Service
LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal came on the heels of an executive order that cut $106 million from the current budget, and legislators are now considering slashing $100 million more to address an unexpected deficit.
Next year could be even worse, as the state could take in more than a half a billion dollars less than originally expected in 2016. As a result, nearly all programs and departments are facing cuts.
But Snyder has favored several programs with a proposed budget increase. Here is a look at some of the winners in Snyder’s budget.
Third Grade Reading Proficiency
Included in Snyder’s budget proposal is a recommendation for $48 million to implement a statewide plan to improve third grade reading.
“The focus on early reading instruction in pre-kindergarten to third grade is very important,” said Gary Troia, an associate professor at Michigan State University whose studies include teacher professional development in literacy.
There’s a fundamental shift in the focus of reading instruction after the third grade, Troia said. Beginning in the fourth grade, students are no longer being taught how to read as much as they are using reading to gain content knowledge.
Michigan ranked 34th in the country, with more than 70 percent of fourth graders scoring below a proficient reading level, according to a 2010 report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Students at low-income schools, and those coming from low-income families are much more likely to have below-proficient reading levels, according to the report.
A briefing released by the Governor’s office outlined plans for the reading initiative, including:
— Expanding home visits to at-risk families for students who educators identify as struggling with reading proficiency, to encourage early literacy activities and identify children who might have disabilities.
— Expanding early childhood education for low-income families.
— Training teachers and administrators to be able to identify students in need of intervention.
— Investing in literacy coaches for K-3 teachers to help develop and implement new instruction strategies.
“One aspect that is really exciting is more literacy coaches in early elementary grades,” Troia said.
Literacy coaches would not only work with individual students but also coordinate services with teachers and administrators to improve schools’ efficiency in educating students.
Healthy Kids Dental
Snyder’s budget proposal includes an investment of $7.5 million from the state and $14.3 million in federal funds to expand the Healthy Kids Dental program, designed to provide dental health care to Medicaid-eligible children across the state.
The Healthy Kids Dental program covers services such as X-rays, cleanings, fillings, root canals, tooth extractions and dentures, said Teri Battaglieri, director of communications, corporate citizenship and philanthropy for Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
Delta Dental, along with the Michigan Dental Association, has a public-private partnership with the Michigan Department of Community Health. This partnership developed and implemented the Healthy Kids Dental Program.
Medicaid-eligible children are automatically enrolled in the program, which has been shown to increase dental visits by 50 percent, Battaglieri said.
The Healthy Kids Dental program is currently available to all Medicaid-eligible residents under 21 in 80 out of 83 counties in Michigan. Snyder’s proposal expands this program to the three remaining counties, Kent, Wayne and Oakland.
Due to funding restraints, and the fact that these are three of Michigan’s most populous counties, the proposal limits the expansion to children under 9.
The Healthy Kids Dental program currently provides dental care for more than 565,000 members across the state. According to Snyder’s proposal, this expansion would cover over an additional 250,000 children.
Snyder has made skilled trades a priority during his time in office.
Michigan ranks fourth in the country with 13.5 percent of its workforce employed in manufacturing, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
Snyder’s budget proposal includes an additional $32.1 million in funding for skilled trades programs. Combined with current investments, the total investment in skilled trades totals $83 million.
Snyder’s proposal includes spending increases in three areas:
— $17.8 million in career and technical education college programs.
— $4.3 million in student outreach, career planning and dual enrollment enhancements.
— $10 million for skilled trade training programs.
Student outreach includes the hiring of college advisers to assist high school counselors, and a statewide campaign to increase career and technical education awareness, according the the governor’s office.
Sexual Assault Case Funding
Snyder proposed a total of $3.4 million in the state police budget dedicated to addressing sexual assault cases.
Across the country, backlogged sexual assault kits have become a target of activist groups such as ENDTHEBACKLOG, leading to 2014 legislation designed to address the issue.
In 2009, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office found more than 11,000 untested sexual assault kits in a storage facility. These kits are still being tested.
“All of those kits should be fully tested and complete by May,” said Shanon Banner, public affairs director for the Michigan State Police.
The 2014 Sexual Assault Kit Evidence Submission Act sets up a system to track the testing of sexual assault kits to ensure they are processed in a timely manner.
Of the funding proposed by Snyder, $1.7 million is designated to support nine additional lab scientists and two technicians, according to Banner. These staff additions would allow for the timely testing of an anticipated increase in sexual assault kits, as a result of the new system put in place by the legislation, she said.
Universities and community colleges also enjoyed an increase in spending in Snyder’s proposal.
“We have a governor who is keeping higher education as a priority,” said Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, which represents Michigan’s 15 public universities.
Universities would receive an additional $28 million, a 2 percent increase, while community colleges would receive an additional $4.3 million, a 1.4 percent increase in funding. These increases still don’t make up for major cuts enacted in previous years.
“Given the economic situation, the Governor and legislature are doing the best they can,” Boulus said.
Where we go from here
Snyder’s plan is a proposal only. The ball is now in the the legislature’s court, where budget plans will be debated in committee and eventually make their way to the full legislature. Last year’s budget was signed into law by Snyder in late June, so we can expect to hear more about negotiations in the legislature over the next few months.
By COLLIN KRIZMANICH