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Michigan Gov. reaches education compromise with own party

Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday announced the details of a compromise on education reached with the Republican leadership in both chambers of the state legislature, which he said should help complete the budget by his self-imposed deadline.

The governor, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) as well as other Republicans, addressed the media in a packed Governor’s Capitol Office.

“I’m here to announce tremendous progress,” Snyder said. “I firmly believe we’re on a path to get the budget done, in terms of the legislature, by May 31.”

The funding includes:

“An extra $310 million in funding for K-12 schools. Of that total, $150 million will be distributed on a per-pupil basis to districts that meet specified financial best practice measures as defined in the K-12 appropriations bill,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

In order for school districts to receive this funding they would have to implement a progress report-style dashboard program, consolidate school services, bid out contracts on non-instructional positions and duties and increase school employee health premiums.

Doug Pratt, communications director for the Michigan Education Association said, the Republican proposed budget is “disgraceful” and commented on the “best practices” measure.

“Bribing districts into forcing concessions by their employees, who’ve already made billions in concessions this past decade at local bargaining tables, is just flat wrong,” wrote Pratt in an email to Michigan Messenger.

“There was a surplus in the School Aid Fund when we started this process, not to mention the additional money identified by this week’s Revenue Estimating Conference,” wrote Pratt. “The only reason there is a need for any cut is due to the reckless cutting of nearly $2 billion in business taxes. They’re balancing the budget on the backs of students and school employees and trying to pawn it off as a good thing for our state.”

Also included in the budget, according to Snyder’s budget press release, is a “one-time funding of $160 million to help defray local school district costs related to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System.”

This one-time payment was one of many proposed in Snyder’s budget and will not be continued into the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Though Snyder contends that he is “reinventing Michigan” in a “very thoughtful and effective fashion,” the education budget has received heated criticism from the Democratic side of the aisle.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) said Thursday from the Senate floor, “Last week, I had an understanding with Republican leadership on using some of the Revenue Estimating Conference surplus to mitigate the Governor’s attack on school funding. However, this week everyone seems to have amnesia.”

Richardville commented on Whitmer’s statement, saying that to focus on “a misunderstanding about a relatively small number of dollars in total, would be missing the point.”

He continued by saying, “More money is going into K-12 than what she asked for and that’s the bottom line. And if there was a misunderstanding, I don’t think that will continue into the future.”

Katie Carey, press secretary for Whitmer commented in an email.

“So the small amount of dollars he’s referring to is the fact that they are putting money into the categoricals instead of the foundation allowance. The original deal between Senator Whitmer and Senator Richardville was to mitigate the cuts in the per pupil reduction,” Carey wrote.

Categorical funding is additional funding for specific school purposes like special education.

“Kids will not be better off under this ‘proposed’ budget agreement since the dollars won’t actually reach them in the classroom. A budget isn’t just a balance sheet — its a statement of our morals,” wrote Carey. “Do we care more about kids or cutting taxes for businesses? Sen. Whitmer would argue that to finish this budget by May 31 is relatively easy if you don’t care about the groups it actually affects.”

House Democratic Leader Richard E. Hammel (D-Mt. Morris Township) also had strong words in a statement regarding the budget announcement .

“Our state can – and should – invest more in our schools, our children and our communities. We must also continue to stand strong against the Governor and Republicans who created the largest tax increase in Michigan’s history on our families and seniors,” Hammel wrote. “House Democrats will continue fighting to make sure Republicans do not continue to shift an unfair burden onto kids, middle class families and seniors and that we don’t jeopardize the future success of our children and our state as we work to turn Michigan around.”

Todd Heywood contributed to this report

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