State warns historic school cuts needed due to cost of COVID-19

Empty classroom covid-19
Posted at 5:55 PM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-12 18:41:33-04

LANSING, MIch. (WXYZ) — The state is sending out warning. Prepare for cuts to school funding, like we have never seen in recent history.

Tuesday the Michigan Department of Education’s Deputy Superintendent Kyle Guerrant gave a presentation to the State Board of Education. He explained that COVID-19 has decimated the state’s budget, leaving it with a $1 billion to $3 billion revenue shortfall for 2020. A shortfall of between $1 billion and $4 billion is projected for 2021.

“I don’t know that we have ever had anything like this,” said State Senator Jim Runestad, R-Oakland County.

Runestad is on the Education Committee. He says the most we have ever cut school budgets in recent history is about 7%.

"In the initial preliminary budget, I am looking at a 20-25 percent cut,” said State Senator Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City,

State Senator Schmidt is the chair of the Senate K12 Appropriations Subcommittee, which works on setting school budgets. He said worst case scenario schools could lose about $2,000 of the approximately $8,000 per student funding they get per year.

“A huge part of the budget is sales tax for schools. And as you can imagine sales tax has just imploded in the State of Michigan. So it is going to be more catastrophic trying to put this school budget together than anything I have ever seen,” said State Sen. Runestad.

“It means that we are basically deciding we want to throw away a generation of kids, if we make these deep of cuts,” said Tonya Allen, The Skillman Foundation’s President & Chief Executive Officer.

Allen says if this happens many schools will be forced to close, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are not disagreeing.

“I would say for many of the smaller independent schools, like charter schools, it is definitely a death sentence,” said Allen.

“That would devastate, even close some districts, so we need to do a deeper dive,” said Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Wayne County.

At this point Republicans and Democrats in Lansing focused on education have the same message. No one wants to raise taxes while so many struggle. Lawmakers are wondering if the federal government will provide stimulus for schools. Political insiders have said that is more likely to happen closer to election time, but lawmakers say sooner is better if it is going to happen.

“I would hope so because the budgets are due July 1st for many of our local units of government,” said Sen. Schmidt.

“We’re all Americans here and our kids belong to us,” said Rep Carter.

In the meantime they are looking at state budgets, looking for potential cuts to suggest.

“Superintendents have told me they don’t think they can have school in a real sense with these kind of cuts. It is going to take us looking at the total budget and where else can we find efficiencies. Where can we find things that are not essential to make sure we are funding the essentials,” said Sen. Runestad.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he is hoping the cuts are not the worst case scenario.

“It is time that the Governor and Legislature work together to balance everyone’s safety and jumpstarting the economy. The polar positions of both are negatively impacting the state and the education budget will be one of many sacrifices without collaborative, problem solving based leadership,” said Vitti.

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