- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed $75 million for distressed school districts is facing skepticism from the House and Senate as they work toward finalizing a state budget,.

Snyder called for the money in his budget address to help the state’s 56 school districts that have a deficit.

Nineteen of those schools are expected to eliminate their deficits by July. For those schools that still project a shortfall at that time, their deficit could total more than $242 million.

Detroit Public Schools alone projects a $164.5 million deficit.

While the governor’s proposal does not spell out how individual districts would receive money under a potential distressed district plan, he does want to help schools facing severe academic and financial challenges, Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said.

Republican majorities in the House and Senate have other ideas.

The Senate Appropriations K-12, Education and School Aid Subcommittee voted last month to approve a budget that would only provide $8.9 million for distressed school districts.

Reducing that amount and making other changes to the budget gave the Senate room to propose an increase between $50-100 per pupil, which would cost $22 million more than the governor’s plan for an across-the-board $75 hike in the foundation allowance.

Sen. Goeff Hansen, a Republican from Hart and chair of the Senate Appropriations K-12, Education and School Aid Subcommittee, said the $8.9 million is a placeholder. He wants to know more about the governor’s proposal and how that money would be spent.

In the meantime, he felt it was more important for money to go to other initiatives such as third-grade reading programs, transportation costs, and supporting adult education and career and technical programs.

Many of those programs were also touted by Snyder in his education budget proposal.

“We just need to make sure all of our students get a first class education,” Hansen said.

Snyder faces even more skepticism in the House.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid did not set aside any funds for distressed school districts.

House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid Chair Tim Kelly, a Republican from Saginaw, said Snyder’s $75 million “will be a difficult request” for the House Republican majority to fulfill.

“There is a bit of Detroit fatigue in the caucus,” he said.

Snyder has emphasized that he is not seeking a bailout for Detroit schools.

“We know there are districts facing financial hardships for a variety of reasons, and Detroit is certainly one of those districts,” Murray said. “Gov. Snyder has said he doesn’t believe in bailouts, but instead supports working with districts to focus on solving the problems that lead to financial distress and building a foundation for long-term success. That could allow for a variety of approaches. Meanwhile, the governor anticipates working with the partners in the Legislature on the issue as the budget process moves forward.”

To Kelly, though, it was more important to focus on funding for the “districts that aren’t in trouble.”

K-12 schools would receive a traditional per-pupil funding increase of $137 to $274 under the House plan. That amount could be more or less depending on whether districts receive extra “categorical” funding.

“The school budget shouldn’t be about taking care of a handful of difficult districts,” Kelly said.

Hansen and Kelly said they will talk over the next few weeks to work out an agreement on a budget.

“I’m not so sure what the answer is, but I can tell you if you bail one of them out, you’re going to have to bail them all out,” Kelly said.

The Legislature isn’t the only source of skepticism for Snyder’s proposal.

Jennifer Smith, director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said the group opposes the $75 million “because it wasn’t spelled out as to how that would be used.”

“We felt it would be better rolled into the foundation allowance because that would give all of our schools an increase,” she said.

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