By LAURA BOHANNON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed $128 million increase for K-12 schools has been praised by state Superintendent Brian Whiston, but some local school districts still see room for improvement.
Whiston “applauds” Snyder’s proposed budget, according to a news release from the Department of Education.
Snyder’s budget will continue to allocate extra money to the lowest-funded school districts to reduce the equity gap between those districts and wealthier ones.
Snyder’s budget calls for the lowest funded districts to receive a $100 per pupil increase and the highest funded districts to receive a $50 per pupil increase — with an additional $50 for all high school students.
Whiston said the additional money will be a relief to districts that have struggled with cuts for years.
“I spent seven years as a local superintendent, and each year I had to cut my budget,” said Whiston, whose previous job was running the Dearborn Public Schools. “This year will be year three of additional funding, so I think they’re certainly moving in the right direction.”
But Bill Saunders, the superintendent of Marquette Area Public Schools, said the funding increase “doesn’t go far enough” to cover things like increasing utility bills, employee salaries and insurance, let alone educational advances.
Saunders said he understands the state has only so much money, and deciding how to divvy up that money is difficult, but he feels as though education has been an afterthought.
Under the governor’s proposal, Marquette Area Public Schools — the largest district in the Upper Peninsula — would see a 1.5 percent increase, “which is nice,” Saunders said. But for the district to make some of the improvements it would like, like adding Advanced Placement courses, administrators need more money.
“We need to continue to push and not settle” for 1.5 percent increases, Saunders said.
John Helmholdt, the executive director of communications and external affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools, said the governor’s proposal amounts to “barely a 1 percent increase” that doesn’t even cover the cost of inflation.
He said Grand Rapids schools will be in the “exact same situation” as Saunders and Marquette schools will be in.
Helmholdt said Snyder’s plan to allocate more dollars to high schoolers with the additional $50 per pupil in high school is a “step in the right direction in recognizing the different costs associated with varying levels of education.”
And he said the district appreciates the extra support for lower-funded districts. In a high-poverty, high-need district like Grand Rapids, it costs more to educate a child than in a wealthier district.
Whiston said students for whom English is a second language, special needs students and those coming from economic disadvantage may require more money to teach than other students.
“So, maybe every child needs $7,000 or $7,500 and the kids who experience those difficulties or those challenges ought to get additional funding,” Whiston said. Grand Rapids and Marquette, for example, get $7,511 per pupil for the current year, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency. “So that’s something I support as we move forward.”
“I believe we ought to look at each child and the supports they need to be successful instead of saying every child deserves the same dollar amount.”
Helmholdt said he recognizes the state has only so much money to allocate and that making these changes are easier said than done. But he questioned the priorities of the state.
He asked if the state should be pumping more money into prisons or re-prioritizing that money to educate youth and create graduates instead of dropouts.
In January, Helmholdt said Grand Rapids schools are underfunded and some schools lack appropriate supplies for day-to-day learning, like textbooks.
The Department of Education recognizes that individual districts might not be entirely satisfied with the proposed increase in per pupil spending, but “in general the department is happy with increased spending overall,” communications specialist Bill DiSessa said.
By LAURA BOHANNON