More funding needed for low-income students and families in 2017 School Aid, Education budgets

Budget Brief JPG USE THIS ONEpdficonThe League continues to advocate for a high-quality education—from cradle to career—for all Michigan children and youths as the state budget moves quickly through the Legislature. The League’s priorities for 2017 include ongoing early education and intervention services for children exposed to lead in Flint, funding for lead testing in schools around the state, full funding of the At-Risk School Aid program, and an increase in income eligibility caps for child care services from 121% to 150% of poverty.

Both the House and Senate have approved their versions of the 2017 budget for School Aid and the Department of Education (MDE). State economists and budget experts will get together with legislators on May 17th to reevaluate expected state revenues and set final spending targets. Legislators are planning to send final budgets to the governor by the end of May, and joint House/Senate conference committees are expected to meet right after the May 17th revenue estimating conference to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions.

This report highlights the League’s priorities in the 2017 School Aid and MDE budgets approved by the House and Senate, with a focus on decisions that will need to be made before the budget is finalized.

BB Education Pre ConfK-12 Schools/Education

Flint Emergency Funds: In response to Flint’s lead exposure crisis, the governor recommended $10 million in state funds to cover the half-year costs of programs for the children of Flint, including additional school nurses and social workers, early childhood and nutritional services, an expansion of early intervention services for infants and toddlers through Early On, and preschool programs for all 4-year-olds—regardless of household income. Funding for the remainder of the year would come from a Flint Emergency Reserve Fund.

  • The Senate and House approved the governor’s funding recommendation for Flint.

The League supports the governor’s funding recommendations related to the Flint crisis in multiple state departments, including funds in the School Aid and MDE 2017 budgets. Investments in Flint in the 2017 budget are only a part of the solution to the long-term education, health, infrastructure, housing and economic needs in Flint and other Michigan communities. The state must evaluate and reform its tax system to ensure that adequate resources are available to fix the problems in Flint and prevent similar crises in other areas of the state.

School Lead Testing Statewide: The governor recommended $9 million in the 2017 budget for school districts around the state that voluntarily test their water for lead levels.

  • Senate: The Senate reduced funding for voluntary lead testing to $4 million, placing a cap of $1,000 per school building.
  • House: The House shifted the $9 million for school lead testing to the Department of Environmental Quality budget.

The League supports the investment of $9 million for lead testing in schools across the state. While the crisis in Flint must be a top priority, there are hot spots of lead exposure all over the state that must be addressed to avoid further harm to children.

Per-Pupil Spending: Two of every $3 in the School Aid budget are used to support per-pupil payments, which are the primary source of funding for school operations. For 2017, the governor recommended increases of between $60 and $120 per pupil, with districts receiving the lowest payments per pupil currently receiving the largest increases in the new budget.

  • Both the Senate and the House adopted the governor’s per-pupil increase for 2017.

The League supports increases in school funding that help raise the quality of education and mitigate the impact of inflation and fixed costs on school operating funds. In the last decade, the minimum K-12 per-pupil allowance increased by 6%—less than half the rise in inflation at 14%.

Funding for Students Academically At Risk: The governor recommended that funding for districts with high numbers of students who are at risk academically be continued at the current year level ($379 million). Level funding is also included for adolescent health centers ($5.6 million) and hearing and vision screenings in schools ($5.2 million).

  • Senate: The Senate agreed with the governor on At-Risk School Aid funding, as well as funding for adolescent health centers and hearing and vision screenings.
  • House: The House agreed with the governor on funding for adolescent health centers and hearing and vision screenings. In addition, the House increased funding for the At-Risk program by $18 million to provide payments to a small number of high-risk districts that are currently not eligible under the state funding formula. To be eligible for the expansion, the affected districts must have more than 50% of their students eligible for the free lunch program due to family income below 130% of poverty, or $26,117 for a family of three. Finally, the House included $3.5 million for grants to at-risk districts (at least 50% eligible for free school meals) for year-round instructional programs.

The League supports full funding of the At-Risk School Aid program. The program provides state funds to schools based on the number of very low-income students enrolled. Children living in poverty often require additional services and resources to keep up with their peers, all of which comes at a higher cost to schools. Funds are available to districts based on a formula, but because the program has been underfunded by a total of $1.9 billion since 1995, schools receive less than they are owed and need. Fully funding the At-Risk program in 2017 would cost slightly over $100 million.

Adult Education: The governor recommends flat funding for adult education programs. In 2016, funding for adult education was increased by $3 million, to just under $25 million. While maintaining funding at current year levels, the governor recommended significant changes in eligibility and fund allocation for adult education programs, including the removal of the current cap on the payment amount per participant ($2,850 per full-time equivalent) and expanding adult education eligibility to individuals younger than 20 years of age.

  • The House agreed with the governor’s recommendation to not increase adult education funding and to remove the cap on the payment amount per participant, but did not support the recommendation to expand eligibility to individuals younger than 20 years of age.
  • The Senate agreed with the governor’s recommendation to not increase adult education funding, but did not support removing the participant payment cap or expanding eligibility.

The League supports an increase in adult education funding of at least $10 million, and opposes an expansion of eligibility until there is sufficient additional funding to cover the increased number of students. Low educational achievement is a drag on Michigan’s economy, and despite the ongoing need for adult education, funding has been slashed over the past 20 years—from $185 million in 1996 to below $22 million in 2015.

Child Care and Early Education

Flint Emergency Funds: The governor included $8 million in the upcoming budget year to cover a half-day of child care for children ages birth to 3 in Flint—regardless of income.

  • Both the Senate and House agreed with the governor on child care funding for Flint.

The League supports additional funding for child care in the city of Flint as an emergency measure, and believes that income eligibility caps for child care should be increased statewide so low-income families can afford to work, and children have the benefit of a high-quality early learning experience (see below).

Child Care Subsidies: The governor made no changes in child care eligibility caps or provider payments in his 2017 budget. Child care subsidies are currently provided to families with incomes of 121% of poverty or less, giving Michigan one of the lowest initial eligibility levels in the country. Payments to child care providers also fall far below the federally suggested level of the 75th percentile of market rate, making it difficult for low-income families to find safe, stable and higher-quality child care while they work to support their children.

  • Senate: The Senate followed the governor’s lead, approving no increases in child care eligibility or payments.
  • House: The House included a budget placeholder to ensure discussion in the joint House/Senate conference committee of an increase in the child care eligibility level from 121% to 125% of poverty.

The League supports an increase in the initial child care income eligibility cap from 121% of poverty to 150%. In addition, the League supports higher payments for child care providers, bringing them closer to current market rates and allowing them to open their doors to more children receiving state subsidies. Restricted eligibility and low provider payments have resulted in fewer families receiving state assistance, even though the cost of child care is often outside their budgets. As a result, despite the persistence of low-wage jobs, the number of families receiving child care assistance has fallen by 75% in the last decade.

Great Start Readiness Preschool Program: The governor recommended level funding ($243.6 million) for the Great Start Readiness program (GSRP) for at-risk 4-year-olds. Eligibility would be retained at 250% of poverty (up to 300% if all children below that level who want to participate are already enrolled). Children who are in foster care, homeless or in special education programs are eligible regardless of family income. The governor recommended budget language prioritizing the enrollment of homeless children or children in foster care.

  • Senate: The Senate agreed with the governor on GSRP funding and eligibility. In addition, the Senate included funding for a partnership between a school district or Intermediate School District (ISD) and a local early learning collaborative to pilot early childhood education for 3-year-olds, testing the impact on at-risk children of two years of preschool.
  • House: The House agreed with the governor on continuation funding and eligibility.

The League supports ongoing funding for the GSRP as well as efforts to test the impact of expanding state-funded preschool programs to at-risk 3-year-olds.

Early Literacy: The governor proposed to reduce early literacy programs by 10% in 2017 by eliminating: (1) $1 million for the Parent University pilot program; (2) $1 million for the Michigan Education Corps, and (3) $500,000 for a certification test of teacher literacy. Last year, the budget included $25.4 million for early literacy programs. Over two-thirds of those funds are being used for additional instruction time for students in grades kindergarten through 3rd, using proven models for reading instruction and behavioral supports. Also funded were early literacy coaches through ISDs ($3 million), grants for diagnostic tools to monitor early reading skills, and professional development for teachers.

  • Senate: The Senate agreed with the governor to eliminate the certification test of teacher literacy and the Parent University pilot, but retained $1 million for the Michigan Education Corps.
  • House: The House adopted the governor’s recommendation.

The League supports state investments in early literacy, including expanded instruction time using proven models, literacy coaches and professional development for teachers. The League also believes that learning begins long before a child reaches the schoolhouse doors, and strategies to increase reading proficiency should, too—including, for example, state funding for early intervention through the Early On program, expanded home visitation programs, and a state-funded preschool option for 3-year-olds in high-risk schools and communities.