Senate, House reach compromise on education budgets

LANSING — State Board of Education members will continue to be reimbursed for travel expenses under a compromise reached Tuesday on the budget covering the state Board of Education.

The $24,000 in travel expenses for board members was stripped from the budget by the House of Representatives earlier this year because they were unhappy with the board’s discussion of policies for LGBTQ students. The Senate included the money and a conference committee of House and Senate members voted Tuesday to keep the travel money in the budget.

The broad policy being considered by the state Board of Education includes guidelines on things such as allowing LGBTQ students to use restrooms based on their gender identity, ensuring staff are trained to address the issues facing such students and supporting the creation of clubs such as gay-straight alliances.

State Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, said the House didn’t appreciate that the state Board of Education started discussing the policy without notifying them first.

State School Superintendent Brian Whiston said the MDE will review new federal guidelines to see how they align with the proposed state guidelines. He said the department will also weigh the nearly 13,000 public comments received online, in writing, by phone and in person. The board likely won’t take any action until August at the earliest.

The travel money was just one of the points of contention in the budgets that cover both the state Departments of Education, which has a $331.9-million budget, and the K-12 budget, which totals $14.1 billion. The full House and Senate are expected to finalize the 2017 fiscal year budget, which begins Oct. 1, next week.

Other compromises in the budgets include:

$40 million in funding for M-Step achievement tests was included in the budget, even though the House had voted to eliminate the tests.

Over the objections of Democrats, who felt the money was the first step for vouchers for private schools, the budget will include $2.5 million for nonpublic schools to help them pay for state-mandated services. The total that will be considered was a compromise between the $1 million included by the House and $5 million approved in the Senate.

$6.2 million for early intervention services, $1.5 million for universal access to preschool for 4-year-old Flint school students and $2.5 million for school nurses, social workers and intermediate school district staff in Flint.

$5 million for CEOs through the state School Reform office, who would be appointed to the lowest achieving 5% of public schools in the state.

Increases of between $60 and $120 for the per pupil foundation allowance. At the low end of per-pupil funding, the increase went from $7,391 to $7,511 and at the high end, it went from $8,169 to $8,229.

The budget also includes language requiring school districts to develop a plan to reduce the number of lengthy expulsions and suspensions. Districts could lose some state funding if they have no plan in place by the 2017-18 school year. There were 1,347 expulsions during the 2014-15 school year, with 8% of them permanent expulsions. In 45% of cases, the expulsion was for almost a full school year — 180 days.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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