School leaders say they face 'disaster' without federal funding assistance

Empty classroom covid-19
Posted at 6:31 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 23:10:52-04

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — Disaster. That is what the superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools says schools face if the federal government doesn’t act to address the budget deficit caused by COVID-19.

Right now school leaders are in an impossible position. July 1 is the deadline by which they have to submit a budget to the state for the next school year. The problem? They have no idea how much funding they will receive from the state.

We have heard from different sources that the best-case scenario means a cut of $500 per student. The worst projection we have heard is closer to $2000.

Even school leaders said they can’t imagine what that large of a cut in funding would look like at a time when schools are experiencing far more costs due to COVID-19. School leader after school leader is raising the red flag, the budgets they are facing are ugly.

“This is probably the worst one I have seen in 28 years,” said Thomas Wall, Dearborn Public Schools Executive Director For Business Services & Operations.

He says the district is fortunate it has savings for emergency needs, but the cuts of by one estimate $13 million dollars for the district are still devastating.

“Our revenue stream is going to be close to 2002, so 18 years ago,” said Wall.

“We’re hearing cuts coming that are not insignificant. They are to the level that any school district would be laying off significant numbers of teachers, entire programs would be cut, some schools would struggle to open at all in a scenario like that,” said Robert McCann of the Tri-County Alliance, a group lobbying lawmakers for schools in Wayne Oakland, and Macomb Counties.

He says he is hearing that some schools could face bankruptcy.

“We know our students will have more needs at a time when funds are in question,” said Dr. Jeanice Kerr-Swift, Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent.

The Superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools says it comes as schools expect to spend more on sanitation, social distancing, and academic support.

While school leaders are calling on state lawmakers to do all they can, with the state facing a loss between $1 billion and $3 billion due to COVID-19 impacting sales tax collections and other revenue losses, they are calling on the federal government for help.

“We’re pushing on them to step up and give us the support they need. Our kids are counting on us to get this right,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-Michigan).

We asked Governor Gretchen Whitmer what she is doing to address this problem. She said she was on the phone Monday with the Congressional Democratic Caucus in D.C. She said she drove home to them the need for assistance for all states who lost revenue due to the pandemic.

She also said she has heard U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Senate Majority Leader) say he is concerned states are using the pandemic and the federal government to avoid tough budget decisions they have faced for years. The governor said she is making it clear that is not what is happening here.

“I know that Mitch McConnell said something along the lines of 'tell states to declare bankruptcy'. I think people on both sides of the aisle in Congress and The White House understand how critical it is we have the 4th supplemental done,” said Gov. Whitmer.