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Snyder's last budget targets right priorities

• Feb 13, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Gov. Rick Snyder's final budget proposal last week recapped how far the state has come since he took office in 2011, and it also served as a testament to how responsible budgeting can lead to increased investments in priorities such as education and roads.

Snyder's $56.8 billion budget offers both Republicans and Democrats something to like, and the GOP majority should sign off on much of this proposal for fiscal year 2019.

Increased spending for schools is a highlight. Yet the anticipated rollout of his so-called Marshall Plan for talent, with a price tag of roughly $100 million, was missing from the presentation. Apparently, that's coming later in the month. The one-time funding would come from a budget surplus, but Snyder has indicated he wants the investment to continue in future years, when no one can be certain a surplus will exist.

In his final year in office, the governor plans to focus on talent development and closing the skills gap. And the state's K-12 schools are essential to those goals.

Snyder referred to the budget boost for K-12 schools as "the highest increase in the minimum per-pupil funding amount in the past 15 years." That should be welcome news to teachers and administrators, who have long criticized the governor for not giving schools more money.

In his presentation, Snyder highlighted an upward trend in school spending. Since fiscal year 2011, schools have seen a nearly $2 billion funding hike. When all funding sources, including federal, state and local, are taken into account, Michigan would be offering $12,000 per student next school year. Yet as Snyder said, money is not enough to improve student outcomes, so it's important how schools invest the additional funds.

Here's a snapshot of what the governor is proposing for education:

— A per-pupil spending increased of $312 million, which would provide a $120 to $240 per-pupil increase, with a focus on closing the equity gap between wealthy and poor districts.

— Up to $50 per high school student enrolled in a career and technical training program.

— $1.4 billion to provide additional support and services for the state's 200,000 special-needs students, with $5 million in new funding for the Early On program.

— University funding would see a 2 percent boost "to provide students with more access to higher education opportunities."

We disagree with the governor's proposal to cut from the state's shared time program, which benefits both public schools and nonpublic school students. The program allows for public schools to offer non-core, elective courses to students who aren't enrolled in the district full-time. Snyder also tried to reduce funding last year, and the Legislature ignored that request and preserved most of the money. Lawmakers should do the same this year. This fiscal year, just $135 million is allocated to shared time instruction — a small percentage of the $12.6 billion K-12 budget. Savings should come elsewhere.

Other noteworthy budget proposals:

— $175 million in new money for the state's roads in addition to $150 million in extra income tax revenue that will be redirected for road maintenance under a 2015 law.

— $3.1 million to train and hire 50 new Michigan State Police troopers and an additional $3 million to support 80 new troopers to offset trooper retirements. The Department of Corrections would receive $9.2 million to train more than 350 corrections officers.

The condition of Michigan's roads this winter are all the argument the Legislature should need to shift the money Snyder is requesting for infrastructure.

Absent in this budget is the steep income tax cuts GOP lawmakers are seeking. Snyder was right to keep them out, and focus instead on beefing up funding for neglected needs, such as roads and police training.


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