LANSING (AP) - Hundreds of school districts - including some in the local area - that now get the minimum amount of state aid would get $120 more per student this fall under a compromise reached Thursday by Michigan lawmakers.
A conference committee voted to raise the minimum per-pupil grant to $6,966 per student, up from $6,846 now. Districts already getting the higher amount would see no per-pupil increase, although they could qualify for additional funding through technology and district performance grants or by adopting changes such as hiring private contractors to handle custodial and food services.
Locally, Escanaba and Gladstone high school officials confirmed they were among the schools that would receive the additional $120 per pupil. Escanaba Superintendent Michele Lemire said this is positive news, but there are still other pieces of the legislation that have not been decided.
"We wonder about the other pieces of the legislation," said Lemire. "They're not completely done yet. They've got the best practices that they put in there that we need to evaluate and also we need to look at what's done with MPSERS (Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System) reform."
She said the district remains hopeful that with this funding increase, no money will be taken from other funding areas.
"It would be great if this impacts us well," she said. "We want to see how all the decisions affect Escanaba. We're hoping for some positive news."
Gladstone Superintendent Jay Kulbertis said the district appreciates the additional per-pupil money and would do the most they could with it.
"I know they're selling this as an increase, and because it's increased ... we appreciate it. But because of drastic cuts made this year, it doesn't get you back to where we were two years ago," he said.
The $12.9 billion school aid budget now goes to the House and Senate, which were expected to pass it later Thursday.
The changes still leave the lowest-paid school districts getting nearly 5 percent less than the $7,316 per student they received in 2010-11, before Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-controlled Legislature reduced the amount by $470. They made the cut so they could use about $1 billion of the school aid fund for community colleges and universities.
State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton of Huntington Woods joined other Democrats in voting against the conference committee compromise Thursday. She said it didn't go far enough to restore funding after school district cuts she said were "catastrophic."
"We have done nothing to bring them back to even where they were two years ago," she said after the vote. "They've gotten deeper and deeper into the hole. And on that basis, this is not acceptable."
The compromise doesn't include Snyder's proposal to tie a portion of school funding to student performance. Snyder said last year he wanted to set up a bonus fund for the 2012-13 academic year that would reward school districts and individual schools that show children are learning what they need to know to advance to the next grade. But with no good way to measure individual student growth from year to year, the compromise instead offers $50 million in grants to school districts willing to purchase new technology equipment and experiment with ways to better measure student achievement.
"Without an accurate tool to measure student growth, there's no way to make that program successful," Lansing school board member Peter Spadafore said. He also said it will be hard to cope with no per-pupil increase in the coming academic year, since Lansing already receives more than $6,966 per student. The district already plans to close buildings and may have to lay off staff this summer to deal with rising costs.
Spadafore also was concerned that the budget bill could jeopardize how his school district and many others use federal funds to pay for all-day kindergarten. Lawmakers tried to address that, but it's unclear if the federal government will continue to let Michigan school districts use the money for at-risk children in all-day kindergarten.
The state will continue to give school districts $155 million to pay a portion of their contributions to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System and will put $130 million into MPSERS to pay down some of the unfunded liability owed on retirees' health care costs.
Differences on the higher education budget are still being worked out. They include whether Michigan State University must stop requiring all students to get health care coverage, whether the University of Michigan must report more on stem cell research, and how $36 million in state funds should be divided among the 15 state universities. A community college budget compromise was released earlier this week.
Lawmakers hope to pass the entire $48 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 on Thursday. If they do, they'll meet their goal of passing the budget by June 1 two years in a row.