LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers are working quickly ahead of a self-imposed July 1 deadline to pass a record budget that centers on educational investments and creates programs to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students and universal pre-K.
It’s the first opportunity Democrats have had to craft a budget that reflects their legislative priorities since they took full control of the state government this year for the first time in 40 years. Passing the budget will also act as a bipartisan test for Democrats, who need partial support from Senate Republicans for the budget to take effect in time for next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
The $82 billion budget plan was released to the public for the first time late Wednesday afternoon, with focuses on investments in infrastructure and the environment. It proposes spending $24 billion on Michigan schools, over $2 billion more than last year’s record education budget, as the state looks to remedy learning setbacks during the pandemic.
The education budget includes a 5% increase in per pupil funding, from $9,150 to $9,608, in addition to a $205 million increase in funding for at risk students.
A proposal to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students, regardless of income, is also included in the budget as Michigan and other states look to fill the gap left by lapsed federal pandemic-era benefit programs and address the strain to family budgets caused by food prices.
Michigan teachers could receive monthly payments toward student loans under a $250 million proposal in the budget as the state looks for ways to address educator shortages. Teachers in at-risk districts could receive up to $450.
Democratic state Sen. Darrin Camilleri, a former teacher who helped shape this year’s education budget, called it “truly historic” and said that “equity was a core component.”
Educational performance in Michigan has fallen steadily over the past decade in areas such as reading and mathematics, according to findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the “nation’s report card.” The state ranks 43rd in fourth grade reading, according to the report.
Michigan’s current budget is $76 billion, the state’s highest ever when it was passed. In February, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed a $80 billion budget with the state expected to go into the new fiscal year with an estimated surplus of $7.5 billion because of high tax revenues. The budget plan would reduce the state’s surplus to close to $400 million in general and school funds.
The House and Senate are now set to meet to vote on the budget Wednesday evening, just hours after the budget was first released publicly during a conference committee meeting.
Democrats have had the ability to pass top agenda items along partisan lines in their first months in power, such as red flag laws and a repeal of right to work. To pass the budget, Democrats will need bipartisan support — with six Republican votes in the Senate needed for it to take effect by October, barring an early adjournment.
At a bill signing earlier this month, Whitmer told reporters she was confident Democrats would get the Republican votes needed for the budget to take immediate effect.
“Getting the budget done is paramount. We don’t want people to look at Michigan the way that they sometimes look at Washington, D.C., as a dysfunctional place where they can’t get the fundamental stuff done,” Whitmer told reporters.
Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt previously criticized Democrats for “steamrolling ahead with their slim majority” and having “no regard for bipartisan concerns” after the Senate approved a preliminary budget plan in May.
A spokesperson for House Minority Leader Matt Hall said Wednesday morning that the chamber’s Republicans had not been included in budget negotiations.
The spelling of Sen. Darrin Camilleri’s last name has been corrected in this story.