LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder this week will propose spending roughly 3 percent more on K-12 public education next school year, a step he said would increase state-based funding of schools by more than $1 billion since he took office three years ago.
The governor told the Associated Press that his planned school aid budget would include an average $100 increase in Michigan's per-pupil grant, with the lowest-funded districts receiving $111 more and better-funded districts getting an extra $83. The state also will continue covering more retirement costs instead of including the money in districts' traditional per-student aid.
The lump payment to pension and retiree health care — along with previous changes that made current school workers and retirees pay more for their benefits — mean districts will save an average $820 per student in the fiscal year starting in October, Snyder said.
"If someone showed up to help you pay your mortgage, doesn't that give you more dollars to pay your other bills?" he said in an interview with the AP. "So that's the point — it really does help in the classroom by helping pay a bill that they're otherwise going to have to pay and reducing that bill."
Democrats have accused Snyder and Republican lawmakers of slashing school funding. But the state's K-12 spending — excluding federal, preschool and adult education funding — has increased every year of his term from $10.7 billion to $11.4 billion, according to the state budget office. It would rise $322 million overall in the 2014-15 budget, or 2.8 percent, and by $430 million overall counting all K-12 funds, or 3.2 percent.
The minimum grant would rise from $7,076 to $7,187, the maximum from $8,049 to $8,132. That equates to 1 percent to 1.5 percent more depending on the district, not including the state payment to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System.
"We're trying to reduce that disparity," Snyder said.
While state spending has risen, it largely has helped to offset lost federal stimulus aid that ended when Snyder took office and to meet growing unfunded retirement liabilities from the 2008-09 market collapse and a 2010 early-retirement incentive for school employees.
Superintendents have complained there is not much left for the classroom and districts are receiving less given declining enrollment. Under Snyder's proposed budget, traditional per-pupil grants would still remain below their levels from 2010-11, the last budget approved by former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
And workers have protested lower effective wages after being forced to pay more toward retirement.
Snyder, who is officially launching his re-election campaign this week and has drawn fire from likely Democratic opponent Mark Schauer for past education cuts, said he should not be blamed for one-time federal money drying up and argued that districts are in better shape because of changes to the retirement system.
With districts' retirement costs capped at 26 percent of payroll, the state covers the balance — $450 a student next year, according to Snyder. Districts will save an additional $370 per student next year from the 2012 overhaul of employees' pension and health benefits.
"They would have had to pay a much higher number but for the fact we did this," Snyder said. "Just think about the trauma that would have created in the system."
Districts could continue qualifying for additional funding of technology upgrades or if they meet "best practices" ($52 per student) in Snyder's budget, which he will present to lawmakers Wednesday. He also wants to set aside $35 million for a revamped teacher and administrator evaluation system and $2 million to help more low-performing schools switch to year-round classes.
As expected, Snyder will seek an extra $65 million so 16,000 low-income children no longer have to be on a waiting list for financial help to attend preschool.
Budget director John Nixon said he still expects some to say the proposed K-12 funding increase is too little.
"I hope they would be delighted," he told the AP. "We've got a great product. We've got a great budget. It's defensible, the revenue's growing and we're making strategic investments."