Nearly four months into their fiscal year, Michigan school officials are finally getting a look at how much funding they will likely receive from the state.
The budget cleared the state Legislature Sept. 19, and is currently awaiting approval from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Schools qualify for different amounts, but the proposed budget has a raise of $120 to $240, for a total of between $7,871 and $8,529 per student.
For almost a decade, the state government has made it a point to finish the budget by June, so school officials would know how much funding they would receive before the start of their fiscal year on July 1.
But, this year, elected officials have taken much longer to work out the budget, and school officials had to make their budgets based on best guesses. Around 80 percent of school budget funding comes from state sources.
Local schools budgeted conservatively, projecting $180 or even $100 per pupil increases, as administrators said they would rather add funds than have to make cuts later on.
“I honestly didn't know what to expect might happen with the budget,” Maple Valley Superintendent Katherine Bertolini said. “We had heard a range of things, from zero increase to the amounts that have passed through the Legislature.”
Barry County schools qualify to receive a $240 increase per pupil. But, even with the raise, superintendents say the budget fails to address issues that have affected their districts for many years.
“It is not a good as we hoped, but it is not as bad either,” Hastings Superintendent Dan Remenap said. “My complaint is the inequity in funding when considering varying levels of expenses in different districts.”
He pointed to an issue about which many local school district officials have voiced their dissatisfaction.
“We spend close to $1 million a year on transportation. So, in effect, take $1 million off of the total that we receive from the state, before we even get kids to and from school and teach them. There are other districts with virtually no transportation costs who receive more in per pupil aid from the state. This disparity is crippling to many rural districts.”
Thornapple Kellogg Assistant Superintendent Craig McCarthy pointed out that last year's budget allocated an additional $25 for each high school student, which has been cut.
Delton Kellogg Superintendent Kyle Corlett said he is thankful the per pupil increase is more than they expected, but pointed to a Michigan State University study that shows the state is one of the lowest ranked in the nation for school funding.
“The funding simply doesn't keep up with the needs of districts, especially small rural schools that face more challenges than other schools,” Corlett said.
But the per pupil increase isn't the only data point school administrators need to determine how much money their districts will receive.
The official student count won't take place until next month, although schools are performing their own internal counts.
“Although there is a slight increase in per pupil funding, the total amount is offset by our decrease in enrollment, so we do not have any 'extra' money to spend on other initiatives,” Remenap said.
“If we have increased revenue, we hope to give more advantage to our faculty than our initial projections allowed us to during negotiations,” Bertolini said. “We also have some staffing needs we need to examine closely, given the state's K-12 whole child and career readiness initiatives.”
McCarthy estimates Thornapple Kellogg has roughly 60 to 65 more students enrolled currently than they did at this time last year. The administration is currently discussing its options, including an increase in support staff, McCarthy said.
Superintendents are still waiting to dig into additional numbers, such as special education and at-risk funding.
“We need to do some analysis to see how this will turn out as the special education allocations and at-risk funding are categorical amounts we also calculate in our formula,” Bertolini said. “Once we have a chance to see how the funding changes are in those areas, we will have a better sense of what this means for Maple Valley.”
As of Wednesday, Whitmer had yet to sign off on the budget, so nothing is set in stone.
“I am hopeful the governor will sign this so we have a complete picture of how to proceed for this year,” Bertolini said.