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West MI districts respond to potential 25% cut in state funding

State Senator Wayne Schmidt told school officials this week they should plan for 20- 25% cut in state funding
Posted at 3:36 PM, May 13, 2020

ROCKFORD, Mich. — West Michigan schools are reacting Wednesday to the news that they could see a cut in state funding up to 25 percent.

State Senator Wayne Schmidt, who chairs the Senate K12 Appropriations Subcommittee, told FOX 17 Wednesday that he has alerted school officials that they could be looking at somewhere between a 20 to 25 percent cut in the K12 budget" both in terms of the current fiscal year and for the 2020/21 school year budget.

“We've been doing damage in such a short period of time. It's not the Governor's fault or the legislature. This is just this coronavirus has devastated our economy.” Senator Schmidt said Wednesday. "I think things will get better in the next 18 to 24 months. However, as a legislator, you need to plan for the worst and hope for the best. We can't count on what the federal government is going to do.”

But if the cuts are made, Superintendents like Dr Michael Shibler of Rockford Public schools believe there will be devastating impacts on districts.

Looking at a 25% cut, “for Rockford on an 86 million dollar budget, that would be 16 million dollars in cuts to our budget," Dr Shibler said Wednesday. “I would never suggest we cut teachers, but for discussion purposes, that would be 45 percent of our teaching staff would have to be cut."

"I mean that's not even sustainable,” Dr Shibler said.

Senator Schmidt says a clearer picture of the situation will be available following the House Fiscal Agency's May Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference happening this Friday.

“Roughly 40% of the school aid budget is based on sales tax. And this isn't some kind of plot. These are just the numbers, that people aren't buying cars, dishwashers, you know, consumer goods like that, going out to eat. All of those revenues have just disappeared," Senator Schmidt told FOX 17.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer was asked about the potential cuts to school funding in a press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

"In terms of precisely what the impact is going to be for schools, I can’t tell you in this moment. All I can say is with this revenue-estimating conference on Friday, we’ll have a lot more information and I remain committed to trying to make sure that we prioritize education in this state. It is a fundamental need," Governor Whitmer said.

The Governor went on to articulate the dire financial situation the state currently finds itself in.

“We have what we’re predicting to be a 3 Billion dollar shortfall in the current fiscal year, and probably one of that size or larger in the next fiscal year. We’re going to be confronted with a lot of horrible cuts," Governor Whitmer said.

"That’s why it’s my fervent hope that Wayne Schmidt and the Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate will encourage our leadership in Washington, D.C. to embrace the solution that Nancy Pelosi has put on the table."

Superintendent Ron Wilson of Ionia Public Schools told FOX 17 Wednesday afternoon, “I’ve been in education 35 years and I’m probably as nervous as I've ever been, with what the future holds for us moving forward.”

Wilson says cuts of this magnitude would force districts to drop all kinds of programs currently available to students.

“You may see parents having to transport their kids individually. It's very possible that some of the specials classes, you know, your arts will suffer, your music, art, PE, all those types of programs would suffer as a result of that... it's a perfect storm," Wilson said.