- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan House approved a $16.2 billion education budget Tuesday with modest-to-healthy funding boosts for schools and colleges and additional money to help rescue Detroit’s ailing district - the first spending bill to clear either chamber as lawmakers accelerate work on the budget before a self-imposed deadline of early June.

The legislation won approval on a 72-36 vote, with majority Republicans touting its overall record-high funding. Many Democrats said funding for five universities - including the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State - would remain below levels from six years ago. They also raised objections to reimbursing private schools for state-mandated costs and funding online schools the same as traditional ones.

K-12 districts would see per-student increases between $60 and $120, in line with GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal and one moving through the Senate. The 15 state universities would see a larger increase than Snyder suggested; the 28 community colleges would receive more than proposed in Snyder’s plan.

“This is a quality budget,” said Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township. He said school officials have expressed “little acrimony” about it despite Democrats’ criticism.

But Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, said it is an “embarrassment” that some universities’ aid would not reach what it was before a large cut was enacted after Snyder took office in 2011. And Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, said a $1 million allocation to help private schools with mandated costs such as fire drills is unconstitutional.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, countered that it “represents a whopping 60 cents per pupil. That’s about one-quarter of one school lunch.”

The bill also calls for eliminating and replacing the state’s new standardized test, known as the M-STEP, and the end of a required assessment of 11th-graders that includes the SAT.

Kelly, who was responsible for drafting the K-12 portion of the omnibus education budget, said “nothing’s etched in stone,” but he wants to help new State Superintendent Brian Whiston come up with a better alternative to high-stakes testing.

The legislation includes about $19 million over this year and next to provide developmental assessments to young children in Flint, which is grappling with lead-contaminated water. The money also would be used to hire more school nurses and social workers in that city and to offer free preschool for 4-year-olds there.

There also is an initial $72 million payment from the state’s tobacco settlement toward Snyder’s proposed $720 million, decade-long restructuring of the Detroit Public Schools, which would create a new district for students to attend while keeping the current one intact to retire a massive operating debt. The Senate approved an overhaul in March, while the House hasn’t so far.

“We don’t know what that solution looks like yet. But we do know under most plans what the amount of the money needed in this budget would be on an annual basis. … The contention is really over how many or how few reforms come along with it,” Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter told reporters.

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert .

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