Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds intended by Congress to provide urgently needed resources to Michigan students and schools have been held up by Republican legislators’ attempt to wrest emergency public health power from the Governor.
In December 2020, Congress approved federal emergency funding for the nation’s public schools in the Federal Coronavirus Relief and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA). As part of the CRRSA, State Education Agencies (SEA) were awarded a second tranche of funds (ESSER II) for public school districts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
In March 2021, the Michigan Legislature enacted HB 4048, which conditioned the release of 60% of the $1.5 billion in ESSER II funds to local education agencies in the state on the Governor signing-off on a separate bill, HB4049. This bill amended a public health law by transferring the authority to close schools in the pandemic from the State Health Director to local health officers.
As expected, the Governor promptly vetoed the bill that would have stripped the State of its power to close schools in a public health crisis. By linking approval of that bill to the release of emergency federal ESSER II funds – a legislative tactic known as a “tie-bar” – the Michigan Department of Education has been blocked from distributing $840 million in funds to districts and charter schools across the state.
ESSER II funds are intended to provide more funding to districts serving higher enrollments of low-income students, in recognition of the need for enhanced education resources for these students. That means the majority of the funding is being withheld from districts with the greatest resource needs.
As an Education Law Center analysis demonstrates, this withholding also has a much greater impact on low-income and majority Black and Latino districts. For example, the tie-bar has blocked $15 million, or $1,476 per pupil, from distribution to Lansing, a district of more than 10,000 students, who are 39% Black, 20% Hispanic and 81% low-income. The Flint Community Schools, a majority Black and overwhelming poor district, is waiting for over $6,000 per pupil.
The pandemic has exacerbated the severe funding and resource deficits in Michigan’s public schools that existed before the crisis. Numerous state and independent reports have documented that Michigan school funding has been alarmingly inadequate and inequitable – for decades. While the state’s public school system was once among the most well-funded, Michigan’s per-pupil spending now ranks near the bottom in the Midwest region.
“It is well past time for the Legislature to release these funds to support school districts in the state so they are able to address the academic and health challenges that will continue in the 2021-2022 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Molly Sweeney, Director of Organizing for 482Forward.
482 Forward is a member of the Partnership for Equity & Education Rights (PEER). PEER is a national network of organizations fighting for school funding reform in their states, convened by Education Law Center.
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