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State, federal governments need to support schools with funds

Guest column

As a result of billion-dollar-plus shortfalls in the Michigan state budget, Michigan schools are being told to prepare for cuts of monumental proportions. These cuts come at a time when schools were just beginning to climb back from the cuts made by the Snyder administration years ago. The size of the cuts being mentioned will have outsized impact on many of the smaller districts that serve students in much of our Upper Peninsula. With school budgets needing to be set at the end of June, time is running out for our elected politicians to do anything about these cuts. With no action at the state and/or federal level, students in many districts will not return to the same opportunities and classrooms they left in the spring.

Schools are being told that there is likely going to be a “proration” of funds from this year’s budget of around $700 per student. A proration is Lansing-speak for, “we are not going to pay you what we promised we’d pay you when you made your budget,” and again when the state required districts not to lay people off in order to receive funds for the remainder of this year. Most schools in Michigan receive about $8,100 per student from state funds.

Cutting such a large amount of funds after promising to provide them will cause districts to drastically spend down any fund balances they have and may well send some into deficit. When schools run deficits, they have little choice but to cut personnel, hold off on needed repairs, hold off on updating learning materials and create large class sizes. Schools are not allowed, by Michigan law, to turn to their communities for additional financing in order to hold off drastic impacts to students.

Schools are also being told to expect a similar-sized cut to next year’s school budgets. This will magnify the impact of any proration and make it likely that even more schools will have to borrow funds to make ends meet. Borrowing means that taxpayer dollars will go toward interest payments rather than to classrooms. It will also mean that schools will need to make even more drastic changes to get out of deficit. Those changes cannot help but to impact classrooms — again, even more so in small districts where every cut makes larger waves in smaller ponds, so to speak.

There is action that can be taken both in Lansing and in Washington D.C. Michigan currently has a rainy day fund of around $1 billion. There is currently nothing being done to access those funds for schools. It surely seems to be raining. State politicians need to take action to tap into those funds in order to keep Michigan’s kids from suffering effects that will negatively impact their learning.

In Washington, politicians need to stop bickering and get moving on a new round of funds to states with dollars dedicated to education. Because schools across our nation are so different in different areas, Washington also needs to make certain to do this with as few strings attached and with a better and more equitable funding distribution than what we saw in the CARES Act.

A nation really is no better than how it cares for the futures of its children. The long-term productivity and health of any country absolutely relies on upcoming generations to be as educated as possible in order to keep up with competing societies. We need state and national politicians to take this responsibility seriously and without regard to the game playing we regularly and currently see from them. The standing of our state and our nation depend on it.

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