Michigan gov. ties school cash to scores

The system is intended to reward districts for results, even if their students aren't getting top scores.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is tying lots of strings to the extra cash he’s offering public schools, universities and communities in next year’s budget.

To get a share of the 1 percent increase being offered to K-12 schools in the budget year that starts Oct. 1, school districts would have to show through standardized tests that students are learning a full year’s worth of material as they move from grade to grade. They’d also have to offer a mix of options including schools of choice, online learning and dual enrollment for high school students who want to take college classes, according to a copy of the budget obtained in advance by the Associated Press.

Michigan for the first time in a decade heads into the next budget year in the black, rather than dealing with annual deficits of more than $1 billion. In the $48.2 billion spending plan Snyder presented to lawmakers Thursday at the state Capitol, he tapped rising revenues to restore some of the cuts made last year and invest in areas he says will help Michigan’s economy grow.

But those getting the funds will have to show improvement to get the money. It’s the same carrot-and-stick approach the Republican governor used last year to encourage school districts and local governments to shrink their share of employee health care benefits, share or privatize services and post online reports to make their activities more transparent to taxpayers.

“This year we had a surplus, so we had a lot of requests for funding. But good budgeting isn’t about taking that surplus and giving everyone a little bit more money,” Snyder said. Instead, it’s about “rewarding success and results.”

It also may be unique. While the federal No Child Left Behind program penalizes individual schools where students don’t make annual yearly progress, Snyder’s approach gives school districts financial rewards when students learn. It also doesn’t tie the money to test scores at individual buildings or to teacher performance, although tougher evaluations for teachers and school administrators are in the works.

Instead, money would be awarded to districts that show students learning on a variety of levels, from 3rd- through 8th-graders who have learned a year’s worth of material in math or reading to high school students who have acquired above-average knowledge in several subjects over a four-year period.

The system is intended to reward districts for results, even if their students aren’t getting top scores.

“If it’s an 8th-grader who’s reading at 2nd-grade (level) … and he moves to 3rd-grade level, you’re OK,” Snyder senior adviser William Rustem told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We’re looking for a year’s growth in a year’s time.”

Districts also would get $179 million toward teacher pension costs, similar to the help they got this year, and could win a share of $10 million in state grants for consolidating services.

Overall, school districts would see $113 million more than they’re getting this year, when they took a 2 percent cut, and could qualify for up to $175 more per student above the foundation allowance, which starts at $6,846 per pupil. Every district would share in $8.7 billion in per-pupil funding, while districts that show student growth would get part of a $70 million pool and those who took the other steps Snyder wants would split $120 million more.

The governor also wants to put $115 million into early childhood education and use part of the budget surplus to add $12.5 million to this year’s early childhood spending.

Universities would get 3 percent more if they hold 2012-13 tuition increases to 4 percent or less and raise the total number of undergraduate degrees awarded, the number of degrees earned in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and the number of low-income students receiving Pell Grants who graduate. Snyder also wants to increase community college funding by 3 percent, with the money distributed based on the number of certificates and associate’s degrees earned in fields that are in demand.

Universities saw their funding cut 15 percent this year, leading most to increase tuition nearly 7 percent.

Besides the 2012-13 spending plan, the governor also will propose a tentative budget for the year after and a supplemental budget for the current year. The budget would keep spending increases tight, relying on a one-time $728 million surplus left over from last budget year and $623 million in new ongoing revenue to be spread over the next two fiscal years.

The governor plans to answer citizens’ questions during an hour-long online town hall meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. on the Rick Snyder for Michigan Facebook page.

Unlike last year, when Snyder’s proposal included a significant business tax decrease and a matching increase in the amount retirees and others would have to pay in individual income tax increases, this year’s proposal doesn’t include any changes in tax policy.

His public safety proposal includes a 16 percent increase in the Michigan State Police budget (about $43 million), a summer jobs program for inner-city youths, more help getting work for chronically unemployed workers such as those with prison records and upgrades for police video equipment and computers. He also will include money to increase state police patrols in cooperation with local governments that may have had to lay off law enforcement officers because of budget shortages and proposes hiring about 20 more employees for state forensic laboratories.

“You have cases being dismissed because we don’t have people to process the evidence,” state budget director John Nixon said. Snyder will unveil more details of his public safety plan in a special address in March.

Local governments would see a 2 percent increase in constitutional revenue sharing and a 9.2 percent increase in revenue sharing money awarded by state law. Much of the money would be tied to incentives given for “best practices” that help local governments run more cheaply and efficiently. County governments would see their revenue-sharing program replaced by the incentive program rolled out to other local governments this year.

Snyder also wants to spend $4.5 million to support financial review teams for ailing school districts and local governments and would increase five-fold the grants available to help local governments consolidate services, from $5 million to $25 million.

The state’s rainy day fund would get a $130 million infusion. The state put $255 million into the fund this year, the first deposit since 2004.

The budget also would take $119 million from the general fund to match federal transportation dollars. Without that money, Michigan won’t raise enough in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes to get all the federal dollars for which it’s eligible. Snyder has urged lawmakers to find ways to raise $1.4 billion more for roads, bridges and transit systems, but it could take a while for lawmakers leery of angering voters to follow that suggestion.

Autism coverage would be provided for children accepted into Medicaid or the MIChild health care program, while $15 million would be set aside to help cover costs for insurance companies that cover autism treatments. The Healthy Kids dental program would be expanded, the basic rate for foster parents would be increased by $3 per day and $60 million in home heating assistance for low-income residents would continue to be raised from ratepayers under Snyder’s plan.

Other areas that would get extra money are food safety, mental health courts, centers for independent living and dam safety. The state would continue offering $25 million in film credits for one more year and put $25 million into the Pure Michigan marketing program, $25 million into encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship and $100 million into business attraction. It also would more than triple the amount spent on arts and cultural grants, to $5 million.

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